Philly's Digital team ditched the Municipal Services Building for a coworking space - Technical.ly Philly

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Jul. 21, 2017 9:46 am

Philly’s Digital team ditched the Municipal Services Building for a coworking space

The city is putting 15 staffers at Pipeline Philly as part of a six-month trial.

City staffers now sit next to StubHub data scientists in one of Pipeline's open spaces.

(Photo by Roberto Torres)

Correction: Fifteen staffers are working out of Pipeline Philly, not 12, as was initially reported. (7/24/17, 10:12 a.m.)

On July 5, the City of Philadelphia’s Office of Data and Digital Transformation packed up its things and moved out of the Municipal Services Building and into coworking space Pipeline Philly.

It was an unprecedented move from Jim Kenney’s administration, which hadn’t to date placed a whole team at a coworking spot.

Fifteen staffers from data chief Tim Wisniewski’s camp took over a two-person office and a few open-spaced clusters at Pipeline, a Miami-based company that splashed down in Philly’s Graham Building back in 2014 with a 21,000-square-foot space.

The deal between Pipeline and the city will be a special one: it’s a six-month trial with no specific square footage or space limit. As the team adds staff or fellows it will be able to scale up the seats it uses.

So, how did Pipeline Philly become the chosen one among Philly’s increasingly crowded coworking ecosystem? Though there wasn’t a Request for Proposals (RFP) there was what city officials called a “competitive process,” with eight different spaces giving their rates to compare.

A Center City location was also a major need, as tech staffers will need to frequently meet with teams from City Hall and post up at PHL Innovation Lab, the City’s own attempt at making a collaborative space.

The city’s Deputy Commissioner of Real Estate Management, Dominique Casimir, said relying on coworking spaces for a team like ODDT is the city’s way to adapt to the demands of the workforce.

“We’re thinking innovatively as to how we can keep up with the workforce and the trends happening in the real estate industry,” Casimir said. Coworking spots are also being considered for other teams with similar needs as that of ODDT, Casimir said.

And just what are those needs? As Chief Administrative Officer Christine Derenick-Lopez puts it, it’s about collaboration and letting ODDT be in a space where there are ties to the broader tech scene.

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“We had kinda, sorta, created an open space at the Municipal Service Building,” Derenick-Lopez said. “But after we added the 12 fellows it became obvious that this team needed to be in the ecosystem.”

A makeshift sign on the door of ODDT's two-person office.(Photo by Roberto Torres)

A makeshift sign on the door of ODDT’s two-person office. (Photo by Roberto Torres)

“This provides [access to] the ecosystem,” Derenick-Lopez said. But just what does that mean?

For Wisniewski, who became head data honcho in 2014, one example is the city’s data scientists working alongside other analytics experts. For example, StubHub staffers, which have a tech outpost there.

“We were just having a conversation with them over Hadoop,” Wisniewski mentioned. “It’s about idea sharing, about finding out what others are doing but also sharing some of what we’re doing. One of the reasons we we’re successful in drafting good people for the fellowships is that people know about the work that we’re doing and they can relate to it.”

Indeed, the move looks like part of an effort to boost both talent retention and attraction. An uninspiring work environment inside city offices has been a problem in the past for some civic technologists (though many have been quick to point out that lack of nap rooms and perks were not the issue.)

(Photo by Roberto Torres)

(Photo by Roberto Torres)

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