Philadelphia shows brotherly love to open data with new executive order

As TechnicallyPhilly reported this morning, the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania has joined the ranks of municipalities putting more public data onto the Internet.

“Transparency is a cornerstone of good governance, and it is vital for the City to be open and available to our citizens,” said Mayor Michael Nutter in a statement posted to the city of Philadelphia’s Facebook page. “Philadelphia was recently named at the seventh most social media savvy city in the nation. The Open Data policy furthers many of the policies and initiatives already put in place by the City.”

Bill Signing_MLeff_08

“The Open Data Policy puts in place the necessary framework, structure and governance that will increase collaboration among City departments and bring citizens closer to their government,” said Chief Innovation Officer Adel Ebeid. “This policy is the first installment in Mayor Nutter’s vision for Philadelphia to become a model for increasing transparency and removing barriers to information sharing and collaboration.”

As NBC Philadelphia reported, the executive order also establishes an internal social media policy for Philadelphia municipal government.

The city now has 90 days to select or hire a chief data officer (a position that Logan Clier called for all cities to establish on the Code for America blog earlier today) and 120 days to establish a “data governance advisory” board, both of which will be in entrusted with established standards and means of publishing open data, along with periodically evaluating the releases to date.

Philadelphia may soon have an opportunity to compare notes with other cities that have pursued open data platforms around the United States, including San Francisco, Chicago, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Boston and New York City. NYC has set up a wiki to help implement its landmark open data legislation, an example that Philadelphians might draw inspiration from, with respect to forming more collaborative and transparent processes online.

There’s much to like in this executive order, for open data advocates, but one phrase in particular jumps out: “Each City department and agency shall develop a schedule for making information available to the public and updating it on a regular basis.”

This could go a long way to addressing key concern that has been extant in other cities and states, where data sets go online but are not subsequently updated. That will only be true, however, if political will is coupled with policy clout to drive more release and public engagement with media, academy and Philadelphia’s technical community to put the data to work for the public’s good.

The good news on that count is that Philadelphia has a partner in Technically Philly, which has been an active participant in driving this change:

The Executive Order had been long rumored and follows the more than year-long growth of a public-private coalitionpushing for a clearer strategy on using data to make government more transparent and efficient.

Full disclosure: Technically Philly has been involved in these conversations, though purely to make clear the editorial objectives of this technology news site. Last fall, during and after the OpenDataRace, a project that sought public voting on desired city data, representatives of Technically Philly, GIS firm Azavea, which built OpenDataPhilly.org, and the William Penn Foundation met with new city CIO Adel Ebeid to discuss the effort on multiple occasions, sometimes with other city IT staff.

As with every open data effort, the devil will be in the details. Or, to put it another way, the devil will be in the datasets, including the quality and relevance of what’s posted. That said, it’s impossible to see today’s action as anything other than a watershed for the city that I grew up in, from 1984 to 1994, and I can’t help but hope that everyone in the City of Brotherly Love collaborates in making the most of the opportunity that now lies before Philadelphia to apply data for the public good.

Go make stuff that matters.


As of 7:43 PM ET this evening, the city had not yet posted the executive order to Phila.gov, the city’s official website. I’ve published the EO on open data and government transparency in full below.

EXECUTIVE ORDER NO. __ -12

OPEN DATA AND GOVERNMENT TRANSPARENCY

WHEREAS, the City of Philadelphia is committed to creating a high level of openness and transparency in government; and

WHEREAS, the three principles of transparency, participation, and collaboration form the cornerstone of an open government; and

WHEREAS, the City’s participation as a founding and vital partner in the open data consortium has provided a model for transparency on which the City should continue to build; and

WHEREAS, more City data sets should be published and made available via an Open Data Portal which will provide access to information and a mechanism for public feedback and participation; and

WHEREAS, the demands of an across-the-board open government framework require the dedication of a new position, of Chief Data Officer, to direct these initiatives; and

WHEREAS, social media tools have become a part of everyday life for City employees and City residents, such that social media can be a means of increasing government transparency and civic engagement; and

WHEREAS, timetables should be established for development and implementation of an overall Open Government Plan to enhance and develop transparency, public participation, and collaboration in all City activities;

NOW THEREFORE, I, Michael A. Nutter, Mayor of the City of Philadelphia, by the authority vested in me by the Philadelphia Home Rule Charter, do hereby order as follows:

SECTION 1. OPEN DATA WORKING GROUP AND CHIEF DATA OFFICER

A. As soon as practicable, the Mayor and the Chief Innovation Officer (CIO) will establish an Open Data Working Group to focus on transparency, accountability, participation, and collaboration within City government. The Working Group, which will include senior level representation from program and management offices throughout the City, will assist the CIO in selecting a Chief Data Officer. The Working Group will also provide a forum to develop innovative ideas for promoting open government goals, including collaborations with researchers, the private sector, and the public, and for developing resolutions to issues raised through the public feedback mechanisms of the Open Government Portal.

B. Within 90 days of the Effective Date of this Order, the CIO, with assistance from the Open Data Working Group, shall hire or designate an individual to serve as Chief Data Officer (CDO). The CDO will lead the Open Data and Transparency initiatives outlined in this Order, including working with City departments and agencies to establish standards for publication of data and the most effective means for making such data available. The CDO will report to the Chief Innovation Officer.

SECTION 2. DATA GOVERNANCE ADVISORY BOARD

Within 120 days from the Effective Date of this Order, the Mayor shall appoint a Data Governance Advisory Board. The Board shall consist of nine members, including the Chief Innovation Officer and the CDO, and shall be chaired by an individual designated by the Mayor. The Open Data Working Group shall solicit nominations for members of the Advisory Board, and shall recommend appointments from the public, private, academic and nonprofit sectors. The Advisory Board shall meet regularly at such times as the Board decides, and its members shall serve at the pleasure of the Mayor.

SECTION 3. OPEN GOVERNMENT PLAN

A. Development of Plan. Within six months of the Effective Date of this Order, the CIO and the CDO, in conjunction with the Advisory Board, shall develop and publish an Open Government Plan. The plan will detail, including specific actions and timelines, the steps that the City will take to incorporate the principles of open government into its daily activities.

B. The Plan shall be formulated with the input of senior policy, legal, and technology leadership in the City; open government experts; and the general public.

C. Components of the Plan shall include:

(1) Transparency: Steps the City will take to conduct its work more openly and publish its information online, including ready public access to ordinances and regulations, policies, legislative records, budget information, crime statistics, public health statistics, and other information. Where possible, publication shall be in an open format, subject to privacy, confidentiality, and security concerns, and to the City’s Social Media Use Policy. Additionally, the Plan will identify high value data sets not yet available to the public, and establish a reasonable timeline for their publication online in open formats.

(2) Public Participation: Description of how the City will enhance and expand opportunities for the public to participate throughout each City agency’s decision-making process, including instructions for online access to published information and opportunities for comment; methods for identifying stakeholders and other affected parties and encouraging their participation; links to appropriate websites where the public can engage in the City’s existing participatory processes; and proposed changes to internal management and administrative policies to increase public participation.

(3) Collaboration: Steps the City will take to enhance and expand cooperation among City departments and agencies, other governmental agencies, private and nonprofit entities, and the public, to fulfill City goals and obligations; including proposals to use technology platforms and links to appropriate websites to improve, and inform the public about, existing collaboration efforts, and use of innovative methods to obtain ideas from and to increase collaboration with those in the private sector, nonprofit and academic communities.

SECTION 4. OPEN DATA POLICY

A. Open Government Portal. Within 90 days of the Chief Data Officer’s assumption of responsibilities, the Office of Innovation and Technology shall establish a Portal that will serve as the source for Citywide and departmental activities with respect to this open government initiative. The Chief Innovation Officer, in his discretion, may build on previous open data initiatives, or may establish a new portal.

B. Identification of Barriers, Guidance and Revisions. Within 120 days of the Effective Date of this Order, the City Solicitor, in consultation with the Chief Innovation Officer, shall review existing city policies to identify impediments to open government and to the use of new technologies and, where necessary, issue clarifying guidance or propose revisions to such policies, where greater openness can be promoted without damage to the City’s legal and financial interests.

C. Department and Agency Open Formats. Each City department and agency shall develop a schedule for making information available to the public and updating it on a regular basis. To the extent practicable and subject to valid restrictions, agencies shall publish information on line (in addition to other planned or mandated publication methods), and in an open format. The open format will provide data in a form that can be retrieved, downloaded, indexed, searched and reused by commonly used web search applications and software. Such information shall, subject to legal and practical restrictions and to the City’s Social Media Use Policy, be made available to the public without restrictions that would impede re-use of the information.

D. Open Data Catalog. Within 90 days of the CDO’s assumption of duties, each City department and agency shall create a catalog of its public information. The catalog shall be made accessible through the Open Government Portal. The determination of what shall constitute “public information” and “high value data sets” for purposes of this Order, as well as what “high value data sets” should be shared as set forth in paragraph 4.E hereof, shall be made by each department or agency head in consultation with OIT and the Law Department.

E. High Value Data Sets. Within 120 days of the CDO’s assumption of duties, each Deputy Mayor shall identify and publish online, in an open format, at least three high-value data sets, not currently available on line or not available in a downloadable format.

F. Public Feedback. The Open Government Portal shall include a mechanism for the public to give feedback on and assess the quality of published information, provide input about what information should be a priority for publication, and provide input on the City’s Open Government Plan.

G. Legally Protected Information. Nothing in this Order shall be construed to supersede existing requirements for review and clearance of information exempt from disclosure under the Pennsylvania Right to Know Act and other applicable laws, regulations, or judicial orders.

H. Evaluation. The City’s progress toward meeting the open government goals set forth in this Order shall be evaluated six months from the Effective Date of this Order, again one year from the Effective Date, and annually thereafter. The evaluation shall be released on the Open Government Portal, and shall include criteria to be developed by the Advisory Board.

SECTION 5. SOCIAL MEDIA POLICY

A. The City of Philadelphia’s Social Media Use Policy is, by this Order, simultaneously adopted and incorporated herein by reference as if fully stated.

B. Going forward, the Mayor’s Director of Communications and Strategic Partnerships and the CIO, or their designees, shall consider any additional issues that arise concerning standards for the acceptable use of social media by City employees, as well as by members of the general public who comment on or otherwise interact with the City through its social media websites, and shall, with the review and approval of the Law Department, make such amendments as may be advisable to the Social Media Use Policy.

SECTION 6. EFFECTIVE DATE

This Order shall be effective immediately.

Date: ___________________ ____________________________
MICHAEL A. NUTTER, MAYOR

About Alex Howard

Alexander B. Howard is a DC-based a technology writer and editor. Previously, he was the Washington Correspondent at O'Reilly Media, where he covered the voices, technologies and issues that matter in the intersection of government, technology and society. If you're feeling social, you can follow him on Twitter, like him on Facebook or circle him on Google Plus In addition to corresponding for the O’Reilly Radar, he has contributed to the Huffington Post, Govfresh, Mashable, ReadWriteWeb, National Journal, The Atlantic, CBS News and Forbes. He graduated from Colby College with a bachelor's degree in biology and sociology. Currently, he is a resident of the District of Columbia, where he lives with his greyhound, wife, power tools, plants and growing collection of cast iron pans, many of which are frequently used to pursue his passion for good cooking.
  • http://www.phillyinjurylawyer.com/ Philly Traveler

    This is a good step. The executive order is beneficial in so many ways.