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Here’s how 7 Philly city departments are advancing civic tech in 2015

At OpenAccessPHL's January convening, city employees forecast a bevy of gains on the civic innovation and transparency fronts.

City employees tackle questions from the audience at OpenAccessPHL's January convening. (Photo by Tony Abraham)

City employees representing 10 departments gathered in the Innovation Lab on the 16th floor of the Municipal Services Building Friday for OpenAccessPHL’s January convening. In lightning-round fashion, each rep was given two minutes to speak on the strides their departments are making to advance open government and civic innovation.
In addition to the presentations, reps were tasked with creating a six-word mantra for their departments’ open data initiatives in 2015. What can we anticipate from city programs this year? Here goes:

Office of Innovation & Technology

Education is the priority for the Office of Innovation & Technology this year. “We’re trying to create an infrastructure of innovation in city government,” said Director of Management Andrew Buss. The city’s Innovation Academy, OIT’s partnership with Philadelphia University, will continue educating city staffers on the basic principles of innovation as a process rather than epiphany.
An alumnus of last year’s class, Buss mentioned the academy is looking at “using food as a platform to teach technology” this year. Also championed was the city’s Innovation Fund, an allotted $100K from the Mayor’s Fund granted to public-private pilot projects.
Six Words: Invest in People for Better Government



PhillyStat analyst John Curtis says “community inclusion” is the motif in his office this year. The city’s performance management program plans on collaborating with the public to create interactive models for their data sets.
Curtis, who’s also a member of the city’s Open Data Team, says PhillyStat’s first order of business in 2015 is using Fire Department data sets to identify fire-prone zip codes. The information will be used to pinpoint neighborhoods in need of fire prevention education.
Six Words: Strategic Thinking, Smarter Government, Safer City


Free Library of Philadelphia

Of all the resources provided by the Free Library, which are library-goers most fond of — you know, besides using the computers to check email and social networks?
According to data presented by FLP’s Digital Literary Innovation Specialists Scott Pinkelman and Harry Fishburn, the library’s career services component is seeing the most use. Pinkelman and Fishburn say 2015 will see FLP focusing on improving its existing resources and making more available online.
Six Words: Bringing New Resources to Underserved Neighborhoods


City of Philadelphia Chief Integrity Officer

In its seven years of existence, the Office of the Chief Integrity Officer has published over 80 data sets, establishing itself as a harbinger of transparency and ethics. According to CIO Hope Caldwell, the crusade for open data will persist in 2015, beginning with the expansion of city service contract data introduced last spring.
As expected, CIO will continue to release city data and help city employees and officials make sense of ethics laws through IntegrityWorks. After all, Caldwell points out, “Integrity is essential to city service.” View the latest quarterly update of CIO’s strategic plan here.
Six Words: Integrity is an Essential City Service


Office of Arts, Culture & the Creative Economy

OACCE’s Research and Policy Director Lindsay So asked audience members, “How can we better track artistic and cultural goings-on in the city?” The answer: CultureBlocks, OACCE’s cultural mapping tool. CultureBlocks maps cultural activity in the city by consolidating 50 data sets collected from over 1,200 cultural providers and organizations.
Six Words: Creativity is a Driver of Wellbeing


Office of Sustainability

While the Office of Sustainability made the city’s energy benchmarking report available last month, Policy and Program Manager Alex Dews admitted Friday that the public “isn’t too excited to download Excel spreadsheets.” (Dews recently announced his departure from the department. He’ll soon become the new executive director of the Delaware Valley Green Building Council.)
Dews says his department has been looking to present the data in an interactive and dynamic way. Hence, this week, the Office of Sustainability will be releasing data visuals for energy usage and performance. Also worth noting: Greenworks’ final progress report, pending release this summer.
Six Words: Reducing Emissions and Bills for Philadelphia



Anticipate big things from Commerce in 2015 as it continues to support and energize the city’s entrepreneurial community and startup ecosystem, says the city’s Entrepreneurial Investment Manager Archna Sahay. Good ideas are finding funding through the city’s early-stage investment fund StartUp PHL, the PennApps Fellows internship program and the collaborative Start. Stay. Grow., which, full disclosure, helps organize.
Sahay assured the audience that creating jobs in the tech sector is still a priority for Philadelphia, citing city tax incentives such as Jump Start Philly and the Job Creation Tax Credit, and state tax incentives like the Keystone Innovation Zones program (Philly has three KIZs).
Six Words: Sustained Economic Growth and Job Creation

Companies: First Round Capital / Free Library of Philadelphia / Office of Arts Culture and the Creative Economy / Office of Innovation and Technology / Philadelphia University

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