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Data / Municipal government / Technology

Breaking: Philadelphia is restructuring its Office of Open Data and Digital Transformation

Amid the shuffle, Chief Data Officer Tim Wisniewski is leaving his post, and the open data team of ODDT is folding back into the Office of Innovation and Technology — a change in reporting structure only, said OIT head Mark Wheeler.

The City's open data office is housed inside the Municipal Services Building. (Courtesy photo)

Technical.ly’s Editorial Calendar explores a different topic each month. The November 2018 topic is Open Data. These stories highlight civic tech efforts across Technical.ly’s five markets.

Update: This story has been updated to more accurately reflect the nature of Chief Data Office Tim Wisniewski's departure, and that only the open data team, not the digital transformation team, will move to OIT. (11/19, 5:52 p.m.)
The City of Philadelphia is today announcing plans to restructure its Office of Open Data and Digital Transformation (ODDT).

As part of the shuffling, the City’s open data team will once again come under the fold of the Office of Innovation and Technology (OIT). Since 2016, it reported to the office of the Chief Administrative Officer.

In the same announcement, it was revealed that, Chief Data Officer Tim Wisniewski — who took on the role in 2016 and led the team to release more than 200 open data sets — will be stepping down on Jan. 1.

“Tim has deservedly received national recognition for his work for the City, and I’m truly sorry to see him move on,” said Mayor Jim Kenney in a statement.

The digital transformation work of ODDT will continue under the direction of Deputy Director Liana Dragoman, who has been appointed as the department’s interim director. ODDT’s name will likely be revised to reflect the change in structure.

Chief Innovation Officer Mark Wheeler will oversee the open data team until a new chief data officer is hired. Wisniewski’s replacement will have an expanded role that will encompass open data, analytics and geographic information services (GIS), as well as data infrastructure.

Wisniewski told Technical.ly that his next move was not immediately clear.

“I’m excited to have a few months to figure out what’s next,” the civic technologist said. He’ll be taking some time off in London, where he attended Richmond University.

So which came first? Wisniewski’s departure or the retooling of the departments? Per City spokesperson Mike Dunn, discussions on organizational structure were already happening prior to Tim’s decision, but as Chief Administrative Officer Christine Derenick-Lopez puts it, Wisniewski’s decision to leave the city proved “a perfect opportunity to realign the two units that have been under his leadership.”

“There’s not many opportunities to build something that feels like a legacy,” Derenick-Lopez said. “I feel that Tim has done that in Philly.”

In a way, the move to return the open data team’s direct report to OIT reverses a decision the City made in early 2016, when it unified OIT’s civic tech and open data teams into the newly minted department, which would report to then-Chief Administrative Officer Rebecca Rhynhart.

(Rhynhart resigned to her post in 2017 in order to run for city controller. She won.)

And OIT itself underwent some changes earlier this year. In January, former beat cop Charlie Brennan was ousted amid a rift in workplace culture. An interim CIO was named in Mark Wheeler — the city’s former chief geographic information officer — who was permanently appointed in September.

“There were some challenges,” Derenick-Lopez said. “But I don’t see that any longer. The team works really well together now.”

As for Wisniewski, if there’s one thing that his successor should tackle, it’s helping the city make more data-driven decisions.

“It’s a privilege to be part of modernizing the way government builds technology, integrating content strategy and human-centered design,” said Wisniewski. “I’m incredibly proud of the talented multi-disciplinary team we’ve assembled and excited about how their work will grow under Liana’s leadership.”

Companies: City of Philadelphia / Office of Innovation and Technology

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