Tim Wisniewski, Philly's new Chief Data Officer, on his top 3 priorities - Technical.ly Philly


Jul. 15, 2014 7:30 am

Tim Wisniewski, Philly’s new Chief Data Officer, on his top 3 priorities

In the waning years of the Nutter administration, how does Wisniewski plan to advance the mayor's open data policy? From more public-facing apps to an "Open Data Census," here's his game plan.

Tim Wisniewski is the city's new Chief Data Officer.

(Photo via Tim Wisniewski)

Two years after Mayor Michael Nutter issued an open data executive order, Philadelphia has a new Chief Data Officer: Tim Wisniewski.

Wisniewski, 26, of Northern Liberties, has long been a fixture of the city’s civic hacking scene, participating in hackathons and building apps before he was a city employee. In four years, the amiable, if buttoned-up, Southampton, Pa., native rose from hobbyist hacker to 311 mobile app project manager to Philadelphia’s first Director of Civic Technology. Wisniewski was appointed Chief Data Officer after his predecessor, Mark Headd, quit, amid frustrations with some city departments, last April.

Now, with less than two years of the Nutter administration remaining, how does Wisniewski plan to carry out the mayor’s executive order and instill open data in the city’s bones? We sat down with him to hear his top three priorities. Here’s what he told us:

  • Release data that’s geared toward the public. Wisniewski wants to release data that’s in a format that’s accessible for all Philadelphians, not just the “1 percent” that knows how to use an API. “We want to make sure we’re reaching 100 percent of Philadelphians,” he said. That means more public-facing apps, like the property assessment calculator and the crime map that’s on the Philly Police website, not just data in spreadsheets and other machine-readable formats released on developer library Github. Wisniewski wants to use the city’s landing page, phila.gov, to push open data to city dwellers.
  • Empower agencies to take ownership of open data releases. The language should not be “the City of Philadelphia released this data” or “the Office of Innovation and Technology released this data,” but that “this city agency released this data,” Wisniewski said. Ideally, the city’s data team will help agencies release data but it’ll be an effort that the agencies own themselves. It’s one way to make sure the open data ethos lasts, he said. That way, he said, “it’s less about any one individual’s tenure, and more about how we do business as a government.”
  • Use data to drive open data decisions. Wisniewski and his team are analyzing and collecting data — Right to Know requests, input from community stakeholders — to see what data the city should release. Data releases shouldn’t be based on anecdotal evidence or the needs of one particular community. He plans to release an “Open Data Census” this summer, which will present his team’s findings, including a “top 20” list of high-value data sets. One data set on that list is city contracts for commodities (objects, rather than services).

Wisniewski also stressed the importance of relationship building, saying that his job would be 99 percent about people and 1 percent about technology. To insiders, it’s a comment that calls his predecessor to mind: Headd pointed to a strained relationship between himself and Revenue Commissioner Clarena Tolson as one reason he felt he could no longer do his job.


Like Headd, Wisniewski remains active in the local technology scene, attending most every weekly Code for Philly civic hacking meetup, participating as a mentor in Girl Develop It‘s summer open source fellowship and attending hackathons.

Wisniewski will lead a staff of 14. While the OIT is open to hiring another Director of Civic Technology, it’s not the focus right now, he said.

Juliana Reyes

Juliana Reyes became Technical.ly's associate editor after reporting on the Philadelphia tech scene for four years. She's co-president of the Asian American Journalists Association Philadelphia chapter and a two-time Philadelphia News Award winner for "Community Reporting of the Year." The Bryn Mawr College grad lives in West Philly, likes her food spicy and wears jumpsuits often.

  • BeniRose

    “Wisniewski wants to release data that’s in a format that’s accessible for all Philadelphians, not just the “1 percent” that knows how to use an API…That means more public-facing apps,”

    What does Wisniewski think those APIs are used for? Just scanning random get requests like it’s the matrix or something? The API is what makes it open data!

  • boutell

    Building out some public-facing apps is a good way for the city to make its open data efforts more visible. But as others have pointed out, no one expects people to consume raw APIs themselves. They expect third parties to build apps, perhaps combining data in new and expected ways, and make those tools available to the public.

    Perhaps the city should work with third party developers to create a gallery of worthwhile apps for the public.

    • BeniRose

      True. Hey, I’m happy the position’s getting refilled and I’ve heard good things about Tim, so if he wants to have the city make some apps to get the data in more people’s hands, I am all about that! I just hope the APIs remain a priority as well.

  • boutell

    Great article. Just had an exchange with Tim on Twitter in which he indicated that the city does plan to release raw data and APIs in addition to city-sponsored apps. Thanks for confirming that Tim.


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