For the past decade-plus, the City of Philadelphia has been implementing digital initiatives to show the public what local government is working on. (Hey, OpenDataPhilly!) The latest of those transparency efforts is the Operations Transformation Fund (OTF) dashboard, released this month to track the progress of the 29 projects funded by the program.
Launched in summer 2021, the OTF is a $10 million fund supporting projects across government departments that are aimed at building upon some of the innovations, cost savings or efficiencies found by City employees during the pandemic. Funds are dispersed over two fiscal years, 2022 and 2023.
One of the spring 2022 grantees, for instance, is a “Digital Equity Bridges” initiative through Philadelphia Parks and Recreation to bring reliable, free internet to 20 rec centers in the city. Another project is “Improving Digital Service Delivery” through the Office of Innovation and Technology in which the city will collect feedback about its website to inform improvements.
“We felt that it was really important to make sure that we were measuring our progress, that we were making that information accessible and transparent to the public,” Philly’s chief administrative officer, Stephanie Tipton, told Technical.ly.
The dashboard uses a platform called envisio. Tipton said her team saw a demo of envisio before the pandemic, and later realized it would be a good way to measure progress and make information available to the public.
“That ability to have that public dashboard, I think, was such a draw for us, when we were looking at the platform and tried to assess how we could use it with this project,” she said. After the process of setting up the dashboard, the timing lined up with the start of the second cohort of funded projects.
Aviva Tevah, program officer of the Operations Transformation Fund, said there’s a description of each project on the dashboard including what the project is, the department or departments involved in the project, and how much funding it received. That information will stay pretty much the same once it’s added, but each entry will be updated monthly with a numerical update — how many steps are complete, from 0% to 100% — and a narrative update, where each department will write out what they want the public to know about their progress. The way the dashboard is designed, users can also at a glance see how each grantee cohort is doing as a whole before clicking on each project’s progress.
Tipton said transparency is important to her office because while these projects are not super flashy, they are necessary, and the City wants the public to be able to see what work is being done.
“We have been sort of working on, how do we really push out information externally,” she said. “Internally, we have been getting monthly project updates. We’re getting a lot of this information from departments already. And we thought it was really rich information that we wanted to get out there in a more meaningful way.”
Tipton sees the potential to use the dashboard model and platform for other uses in the city and continue to provide transparency.
Sarah Huffman is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism. -30-