Tuesday, October 6, 2015

(Just Over) One Year Later: Philly's Open Data Policy


Just over a year ago, Mayor Michael Nutter of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania signed an executive order creating an open data policy for the city. That order called for Philly to take some big steps: from expanding the amount of public information it makes available in open formats to hiring a Chief Data Officer to help city agencies open up their data. But how do these policy provisions play out in real life?

The story of policy-turned-reality will always be complicated and difficult to fully assess in the moment, but we thought it would be interesting to talk with some locals to get their perspective on how things have changed in the last year. Many of the people we spoke with, including Chief Data Officer Mark Headd and civic hackers (and journos) like Pam Selle, Casey Thomas, Chris Alfano, and Mjumbe Poe, reflected on how the new policy has helped them focus on doing innovative things with city data, a note that we also heard when we visited Philly in April 2013 as part of our local program. You can hear more reflections from Philadelphians in the video above.

When we set out to craft our recent update to the Open Data Policy Guidelines, we payed close attention to existing practices in states, cities, and other governments, even as we looked for best practices. Although we have yet to find our proverbial "white whale," we’re inspired by cities like Philadelphia which are actively trying out new ideas for policy and implementation, such as sharing a public calendar of upcoming data releases and hosting the city data portal on a semi-independent site run as a public/private partnership.

Although Philly’s done much in the last 365 days, there is still room to grow. Recently, the Philadelphia Inquirer commented on how the city’s focus on data access has clouded issues related to general public records access. This kind of challenge is important because (as Philly’s 2011 Open Data Race demonstrated) open data policies are bigger than the technology they regulate -- engaging non-technical communities and touching on issues related to accountability -- and because it’s productive. Philadelphia should keep pushing to refine their approach to opening data -- even how the city thinks about and defines "data." Perhaps that will be the challenge that Philadelphians will be reflecting on at the end of year two.

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  • The Sunlight Foundation is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that uses the power of the Internet to catalyze greater government openness and transparency, and provides new tools and resources for media and citizens, alike. A list of Sunlight's funders can be found here.

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