Monday, June 16, 2014

June 17 Update to NNIP Pittsburgh Partner's Perspective on Open Data

Since I wrote my NNIP Pittsburgh Partner’s Perspective on Open Data in the summer of 2013 for the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership, an awful lot has happened related to Open Data in Pittsburgh. I’m amazed with the speed at which the paradigm has changed now that our elected leadership at the City of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County has made open data and open government a priority. Here at the University of PittsburghCenter for Social and Urban Research, I’m privileged to have a front-row seat as the momentum behind open data and open government grows and evolves.

Some key events have transpired since January, 2014:
  • After taking office, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto created an Innovation and Performance team led by Debra Lam. This team now manages all technology, sustainability, and innovation functions in city government. Laura Meixell, Analytics and Strategy Manager manages open data efforts with the City. A University of Pittsburgh graduate, Laura participated in the Code for America fellowship program in 2013.
  • In March, 2014, open data legislation introduced by Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak, and was improved by soliciting public comment on the document itself. The legislation passed unanimously and was signed by the Mayor.  I was invited to provide testimony in support of the bill at a post-agenda session of City Council. The Sunlight Foundation found a lot to like about the bill.
  • I was successfully involved in launching the Pittsburgh Chapter of the Code for America Brigade – we’re calling it “Open Pittsburgh”. We have been meeting monthly, and participated in the National Day of Civic Hacking in Homewood last month. More about Open Pittsburgh in a bit…
  • The Second-annual Steel City Codefest in February was another success, and provides a model for creating community partnerships and sustaining the work beyond the event. Partners in the event solicited a number of challenges from nonprofit and government organizations, and raised $35,000 in follow-on stipends to support the work of several of the teams after the Codefest.

There’s quite a bit that has me excited for the future, including:

  • Working in collaboration with our partners at the City of Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, and Carnegie Mellon, UCSUR is now planning the “Regional Data Resource Center,” a platform to help our region’s governments, non-profit organizations, and citizens share, find, and use information.
  • The number of communities interested in using information to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of services has grown dramatically in the past year. Many municipalities and councils of government now are voluntarily sharing information with us and one another. This was not the case just a few years ago. This has happily created a new set of capacity challenges for UCSUR and the Pittsburgh Neighborhood and Community Information System that we hope to address through the Regional Data Resource Center, and the efforts of  civic hackers.
  • UCSUR’s collaboration with Allegheny County’s Department of Human Services has deepened on several projects. DHS is a national leader in data sharing, and the use of data in human services.  In summer, 2014, UCSUR and DHS will launch the Southwestern Pennsylvania Community Profiles, a new visualization tool about the region’s communities (being built by our NNIP partners at The Providence Plan). We also are working on integrating property and community information with school and human service records to support efforts to better-understand and reduce chronic school absenteeism in three school districts. This project is one of NNIP's Integrated Data System projects funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
  • Here at UCSUR, we also partnered with GTECH Strategies to standardize property surveys in the region. I'm very pleased with the collaboration, including GTECH's land survey, and UCSUR's building standard and training presentation. GTECH is also having success using Local Data's mobile data collection tool, and early feedback from Operation Better Block's neighborhood survey is very promising.    
  • There is a lot of energy building around Open Pittsburgh. Recent events have attracted about 50 participants with a variety of interests and skills. Members have started working on several projects, including a crime mapping Website, and open data questionnaire for Pennsylvania’s Gubernatorial candidates. We'll complete our Brigade plan this summer.
  • The candidate questionnaire was a collaborative effort of Code for Philly, Open Pittsburgh’s Philadelphia counterpart. The questionnaire has only scratched the surface of statewide collaboration in open data and open government in Pennsylvania. In collaboration with our many partners in Philadelphia (including Mark Headd and Code for Philly), we look forward to good things happening across the Commonwealth.
Let’s hope the next six months are even better for open data and open government in Southwestern PA.

Bob Gradeck

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