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What's New in Civic Tech: Philadelphia Blog Captures Stories of Residents Who Used Its Open Data Portal to Do Good

Plus, San Francisco's STiR director leaves for NYC, and Chicago's new open data portal keeps user-friendliness front and center.

by / April 20, 2017

What's New in Civic Tech takes a look at highlights and recent happenings in the world of civic technology.


Philadelphia Illustrates Positive Uses of Open Data in the City

Philadelphia has launched a blog to look at ways its residents are using open data in their everyday lives to make the city a better place.

This project is a collaboration between Philadelphia’s Office of Open Data and Digital Transformation and Temple University’s department of journalism. At the blog's core is recent Temple graduate Kamal Elliott interviewing Philadelphia residents who have used open data in a meaningful way, with an overarching goal of showing others how tangible such pursuits can be.

In a post announcing the project, officials said topics will include how residents have used data to plan programs, grow businesses, advance advocacy and build apps. The blog will also look at how government has benefited from citizens having access to data.

Philadelphia, like nearly all major cities in the US, has had an open data portal for some time. Theirs is OpenDataPhilly, and this blog will illustrate ways that it can be used as part of a broader nationwide trend — a trend where civic technologists are no longer content with just spilling data sets online, so they are moving on to conveying data in ways that more people can digest and understand. Philadelphia’s blog is unique, in that it seeks to use narratives and journalism to inspire greater use. Other cities, including Chicago, Boston and New York, have recently overhauled their data platforms to make the interface simpler.

In addition, Philadelphia is also soliciting user input for a beta version of a new website it plans to launch soon.  

Director of San Francisco’s Startup in Residence Program Leaves for New York City

Jeremy Goldberg, formerly the director of innovation partnerships and the Startup in Residence program in San Francisco, has left his position to become the managing director of NYCx, an initiative based in the New York City Mayor’s Office of Technology and Innovation.

Goldberg began work in New York on Monday, April 17, announcing the change on Twitter.



Goldberg’s move follows that of Miguel Gamiño Jr., who left his position in October 2016 as San Francisco’s CIO to become New York City’s chief technology officer. In the wake of Goldberg’s departure, those interested in the Startup in Residence Program are asked to contact Amardeep Prasad.

With Goldberg’s involvement, STiR grew from a citywide initiative in 2014 to an annual program in four regional cities, including San Francisco, Oakland, San Leandro and West Sacramento. The idea behind it is a simple one: Embed startups in compatible government departments where they can do the most good. Through STiR, technologists work first-hand with government employees, gaining the insight they need to identify and tackle problems they likely could not have seen from the outside.

STiR participants have seen much success. One such story is Binti, which has been rapidly signing California clients after its time in STiR helped it develop digital tools to make the foster parent application process far more efficient for both social workers and potential caretakers. Felicia Curcuru, Binti’s chief executive officer, has attributed involvement with the program to her company having now signed more than 20 government clients throughout California.

Chicago Launches Redesigned Data Portal

Chicago has launched a redesigned open data portal that seeks to both increase information and make it simpler for users that aren’t data scientists, joining a number of major cities that are overhauling their platforms to be more accessible to residents.

The Chicago Data Portal’s relaunch took place Monday, April 17, and the main page of the site featured data sets most likely to draw interest from residents, including the locations of restaurants with sidewalk café permits, information about taxis, restaurant inspections and police incident reports. The platform is a marked improvement in both aesthetic and utility over the one Chicago built in 2012 after an executive order from Mayor Rahm Emmanuel required an open data portal. There is also a marked increase in visual elements on the new site, including maps and graphs.

“Open data is not just for the tech-savvy, but for all Chicagoans and visitors to the data portal,” Chicago officials wrote in a statement announcing the launch.

The website is the culmination of feedback gathered about Chicago’s open data portal over the five years in which it was been available. The feedback was solicited in focus groups that were conducted in partnership with groups such as Smart Chicago Collaborative and ChiHackNight. In September 2016, the new design was also shown at Woodson Regional Library in the city’s Washington Heights area in order to collect feedback.

To continue to alleviate concern about accessibility, Chicago has created a YouTube channel with tutorials about how use its open data portal. Residents can also follow Chicago open data developments through an ongoing blog.

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Zack Quaintance Assistant News Editor

Zack Quaintance is the assistant news editor for Government Technology. His background includes writing for daily newspapers across the country and developing content for a software company in Austin, Texas. He is now based in Washington, D.C. He can be reached via email.

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