Open city data in Philadelphia: the obstacles and triumphs of the L&I example

A screenshot of a draft of the License to Inspect tool, built by Azavea for PlanPhilly using the new L&I app. Click to enlarge.

A feature story covering the as-yet unreleased Philadelphia Department of Licenses and Inspections API-based online tool ‘License to Inspect,’ its inspiration and hope was published on Technically Philly Monday, a story I reported and wrote during the last couple months.

It is the last major feature of the Transparencity grant project I’ve been leading, and one of the more detailed investigative reports I’ve done in my journalism career. The feature, which details the nearly two-year struggle to go public with a project with internal support, is meant to show the lessons learned and obstacles faced in the hopes that future city agencies can more efficiently release their data publicly for development and citizen use.

Give it a read, for lessons to be taken for any local government. and then find some of what didn’t make it into the piece below.

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Three proposed ONA 2011 panels

The annual national Online News Association conference, to be held this fall in Boston, has launched its 2011 panel picker, in which those interested can vote to support their favorites of a couple hundred suggested sessions.

I am somewhat involved in three. To vote, users just need to sign up with an email. If you’re interested give love to any of these three:

  1. Data Sets You Free — Informed by my Transparencity work, I proposed to lead a session with Robert Cheetham of Azavea and Chris Satullo of WHYY that would focus on the following: “In Philadelphia, a GIS shop, an NPR affiliate, a foundation, an indie news site and a technology community are coming together to organize, catalog, share and use city government data to create applications, stories and coverage that boosts transparency and efficiency. This presentation focuses on what was done, why collaboration was important and lessons on doing the same elsewhere.” Questions: 1. Why is government data so important? 2. What are challenges, obstacles and lessons from an actual example? 3. What can other journalists learn from such a project?
  2. This isn’t a panel: 10 lessons from Technically Philly — “10 actionable lessons derived from what we’ve learned building Technically Philly, a profitable blog that covers technology in Philadelphia. No panel discussion, just 10 takeaways that you can use at your job tomorrow including sources of revenue and editorial philosophies that you didn’t learn in journalism school.”
  3. Making it work with a small staff – Organized by colleague Sean Blanda, “How can you keep the lights on and the posts coming when you have a staff of ten or less? Join us as we discuss the workflow hacks and editorial jujitsu necessary for a first-rate news site.”
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