When Mayor Peduto hired me to come work for the City in 2013, he already knew the City’s Data was a resource to be utilized and shared for the benefit of our whole community. Mayor Peduto was one of very few Mayoral candidates anywhere to include Open Data as a campaign promise, discussing it at neighborhood events and creating excitement for open data and civic technology among local businesses and academic supporters.
The excitement around our new, tech forward Mayor was a catalyst for bringing together other elements of the Pittsburgh community that were ready for a unique Open Data program to take off. The University of Pittsburgh (my alma mater) had been collecting and helping local governments and NGOs use data for nearly 10 years, creating an appetite for fresh, clean data among our public service professionals. Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and his team became key partners in our work, bridging intergenerational intergovernmental divides. Our local philanthropic foundations saw the potential in our proposals for improving government and assisting their grantees with tools and information. They have supported us not only financially, but by leveraging our infrastructure in their other projects.
Our approach to Open Data is a unique response to the Pittsburgh community’s needs rooted in the best practices learned from other cities.
By the time we got started in 2014, Pittsburgh had the benefit of learning from years of Open Data experience in cities that went first. I spoke with the first Americans to develop municipal Open Data programs, including former Philadelphia Chief Data Officer Mark Headd and former Chicago CDO Brett Goldstein. A dinner in San Francisco at the end of that year between myself, current Chicago CDO Tom Schenk, San Francisco’s Joy Bonagauro, and Los Angeles’ Abhi Nemani ultimately begat Harvard’s Civic Analytics Network. On behalf of myself, my team, and my city I am grateful for the assistance of my colleagues around the country and we hope to pay it forward by helping others in years to come.
What we built in the Western Pennsylvania Regional Data Center and the City of Pittsburgh’s Open Data Program seeks to respond and engage directly with our colleagues and citizens. Recognizing our region’s long known challenges around municipal collaboration, we chose to build an Open Data program in a way that’s inclusive. By having our official data portal for the City and County housed at the University of Pittsburgh, we create the professional and technical space to exchange information via a trusted third party. The University of Pittsburgh’s long tradition as a community anchor with a regional presence and WPRDC Director Bob Gradeck’s empathic leadership create a unique resource for gathering and using data in all our communities.
The City sought to provide leadership as a founding WPRDC contributor by opening up online questions such as “which data that the city maintains would you like to see and why?” As we began to publish more streams of data and gained a more sophisticated understanding of how the city collects and maintains data it became clear it was not enough to simply share it. Along with partners inside and outside City government our team used Open Data to built scores of applications to help Pittsburghers see their government in action.
To do this, our team has been flexible, cheerfully facing the next challenge as we work together to make the most of our opportunities. A special thanks to Tara Matthews and Geoffrey Arnold who have worked with me from nearly the beginning, and to Nick Hall, Max Cercone, Paul Marks, Robert Burack who together have helped give our city what we need for the future. Thank you to the many interns and fellows as well as to the bosses, Debra Lam, Lee Haller, Sam Ashbaugh, Kevin Acklin and of course, Bill Peduto for your leadership. Thank you to our partners in the City departments, Authorities, at the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Public Libraries, and with Allegheny County. Thank you to the Heinz Endowments, the RK Mellon Foundation, and many others for your support and good faith in the future of public service information infrastructure.
Thanks as always to the people of Pittsburgh for their kind reception and thoughtful responses to our work over the last few years. We look forward to building on what we have started, expanding access to key data and tools that will help every Pittsburgher thrive in the 21st century.Sincerely