To understand its open data, Philadelphia surveys city staff, public

The city is asking people to share which data sets they want more of and how they're manipulating the data, all to provide a better public service.
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The Philadelphia Office of Innovation and Technology began distributing a survey on Wednesday with the goal of crowdsourcing information from city employees and the public to make its open data portal more accessible, understandable and valuable.

The 2020 PHL Open Data survey is the city’s first comprehensive attempt at gathering data on the success of a community-run open data portal, which was redesigned in 2015 by the software company Azavea. Kistine Carolan, Philadelphia’s open data program manager, told StateScoop this survey is designed to gather both a larger volume of responses and to reach a more diverse audience than past attempts. 

“This is a much broader focus to understand how people are using the data, what data sets they want,” Carolan said. “It’ll provide us an opportunity to not only refine our program how we provide these services to the public, but also internally, in supporting our staff in releasing open data and becoming a more data-driven organization as a whole.”

The survey begins by asking participants whether they use the portal for work, play or community organizing, as well as how often they’ve gone back to the portal in the last six months. Participants also list all of the software that they use in conjunction with the data sets they access, and are asked to explain the positive aspects of the portal and any obstacles they face when extracting or trying to make sense of data. Finally, participants are asked to submit recommendations for new data sets and to share some demographic information.


Carolan said that the survey has the potential to identify new use-cases beyond the anecdotes she hears about, like a college professor using open data as part of a course.

The survey is also expected to reveal which data sets can be used to help “foster cross-programmatic interactions” within city agencies, according to Hank Garie, the city’s geographic information and chief data officer. For example, if there are city employees that want to publish more open data but don’t have the training or resources, Garie said, the survey could reveal that need.

When the survey closes, OIT will review the data sets people suggested and evaluate how well the city’s data is being shared internally, according to a press release. Garie told StateScoop that the city has no plans to make the survey an annual occurrence right now, but could issue another in the future, depending on the quality of this survey’s results.

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