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Here’s Chief Data Officer Tim Wisniewski’s plan to make open data stick

Wisniewski's plan sets a roadmap for his tenure and distinguishes him from his predecessor, Mark Headd.

If the first two years of Philadelphia’s open data policy were about kickstarting a municipal movement, here’s the plan to make sure that movement outlives the Nutter administration.

The City of Philadelphia released an open data strategic plan today, which Chief Data Officer Tim Wisniewski is billing as the city’s plan to ingrain open data into the culture of local city government. It’s a plan, he said, to scale the city’s open data efforts. It’s also a way to prioritize what data the city should release.

See it

The plan feels like Wisniewski’s way of marking his own vision for open data, a vision that strays from what ex-Chief Data Officer Mark Headd built.

That’s seen most clearly in the plan when it stresses that the city’s open data team members are “facilitators, not evangelists.” It also stresses that it’s the city departments who will be making the decisions about what data will be released.

Those are both points that seemingly allude to Headd, whose tangle with Revenue Commissioner Clarena Tolson over how to release property-tax data led to his resignation.

But what if department heads simply don’t understand the importance of releasing a certain data set?

Wisniewski said that after speaking to many department heads, he is optimistic that this won’t happen.

“There is will behind open data,” he said.

Here’s what else to look for:

  • A cool graph that visualizes Philly’s current open data landscape. The “open data census” takes stock of the city’s datasets — published and unpublished — and scores them in term of demand and cost, or the level of complexity it would take to release. You’ll see that datasets like employee salaries and property tax balances fall in “high demand, high cost,” and that most of the “low cost” data sets have already been published.
  • Scroll down for a list of datasets that the city is working on releasing right now, including Part II Crimes and city grant data. Some will be released as soon as November, said city data scientist Stacey Mosley.
  • The open data team is creating a data inventory, essentially a list of all the datasets the city has. They’re starting with the Commerce Department and the Office of Emergency Management. Wisniewski said this is both for internal and external purposes, as it’ll help city departments and citizens find out what kind of data is available to them.
  • Compare Philly open data releases to other city’s. For example, see that New York City, Boston, Baltimore and Chicago have also released property assessment data but most of those cities have not released School District budget data.
  • See a list of open data priorities (page 6), like consolidating all the city’s data portals and developing legal standards for publishing data, instead of going to the Law Department each time the city wants to release a dataset.

The city also assembled an open data advisory group that helped them with the strategic plan and the open data census. Its members, who range from journalists to business people, are below:

  • Dylan Purcell, Philadelphia Inquirer
  • Garrett O’Dwyer, Philadelphia Association of Community Development Corporations
  • Kate Hagedorn, Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce
  • Lee Huang, Econsult Solutions
  • Megan Heckert, Swarthmore College
  • Mike Zaleski, SEPTA
  • Robert Cheetham, Azavea
  • Alisha Green, Sunlight Foundation
  • Hope Caldwell, Chief Integrity Officer
  • Tom Swanson, Deputy Chief Geographic Information Officer
  • John Curtis, PhillyStat
Companies: City of Philadelphia

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