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The City surveyed residents on how they use open data. Here’s what it found

Nonprofits pros, students and professors, and city staffers all said they rely on Philadelphia's open data sets for their work.

Philadelphia City Hall. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

This January, the City of Philadelphia’s Office of Innovation and Technology surveyed residents in order to learn more about what they find valuable about the City’s open data sets.

The City hosts more than 250 datasets on, a portal developed by geospacial software company Azavea. Various City departments collaborate with OIT to release the public data sets, allowing residents to find information on topics like land usebuilding footprints or election results. By putting out the 2020 PHL Open Data Survey, OIT wanted to know: What’s successful, difficult or lacking when it comes to data sharing in Philly?

Of the hundreds of residents who responded — including those who hold positions in the nonprofit, business, academic research, community advocacy, journalism, education, urban planning and data spaces, as well as from people who are homeowners and renters — 90% said that open data is “important” to their work, and 92% thought that the office’s data visualizations are “helpful,” the office said this week.

According to number of responses, the heaviest users of the public data were nonprofit pros, students and professors, and city staffers, said Kistine Carolan, the City’s open data program manager.

“However, we saw reliance on and leveraging of open data also by many community advocates and some journalists,” she said.

Nonprofits indicated a heavy use of open data as part of the services they provide and use it in their grant-seeking efforts, Carolan said, and city workers also used other departments’ data for their specific services to help make decisions or improve their operations.

Respondents told the City that the ways in which it can improve its open data sharing included making some datasets more comprehensive by adding the ability to organize by ZIP code or other features; ensuring that already released data stays up to date; releasing more data that’s only available now as PDFs; and continuing to deliver open data through apps like Atlas.

“The biggest take away is how important open data is for a wide variety of actors and industries in our City (and beyond),” Carolan said. “We saw over 120 requests of new datasets or enhancements to previously released data. We’re reviewing those requests to help us prioritize new data releases.”

Looking forward, the CityGeo team will continue to add datasets that automatically update with the latest info, allowing the team to focus more on releasing new data, the City said. It will also prioritize data projects that align with the primary areas noted by the survey respondents, especially those relating to property and city planning, financial information, and health and human services.

The City also said there will be a focus on visualizations, which make data sets easier to understand, and on expanding awareness of the data sets’ existence.

“We want residents to know that this data is available and useful for many purposes,” OIT said in a statement. “Anyone can use and access this data — whether it’s for a business project or simple curiosity to learn more about Philadelphia.”

You can check out every open data set on OpenDataPhilly.

Companies: City of Philadelphia / Office of Innovation and Technology

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