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Ordinance requires Pittsburgh government to publish data online

| Tuesday, March 11, 2014, 1:18 p.m.

Pittsburgh has to figure out what data it collects before it can determine how to share it under open data legislation City Council passed unanimously Tuesday that requires city government to post public info online.

“There's going to be some data where we'll say, ‘Oh, this is collected but it's not digital, it's only kept on paper somewhere.' Or it's kept on a city system, but not shown to the public,” said Laura Meixell, the city's new analytics and strategy manager.

Council's approval marks one of the first initiatives Mayor Bill Peduto's administration has shepherded from campaign promise into law. Peduto took office in January.

Meixell said the first step is appointing an open data management team with a representative from each department. The team must submit a plan within six months of the legislation's enactment to the mayor and City Council to improve open data access.

Publicly accessible info could include budget plans, building permits, crime statistics and pothole repair updates. However, the legislation doesn't identify what data should be available, only that it should be in a widely accepted, machine-readable open format.

The city plans to seek public comment on what types of data the community wants to access, Meixell said. The system could model OpenDataPhilly, which lets users suggest and access open data subjects in Philadelphia.

To host the data sets securely, the city may require new technological infrastructure and could seek financial support from nonprofits, Meixell said.

The initiative could save the city money by publicizing data otherwise obtained through time-consuming Right-to-Know Law requests.

Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak said she hopes developers will create apps that integrate city data. One example: an app that reminds users it's trash or recycling pickup day.

“Data doesn't have to be complicated in order for it to be useful,” she said.

Nationwide, about two dozen city, county and state governments have passed open data legislation, and 12 others have proposals, according to the Sunlight Foundation, a government transparency nonprofit.

Rebecca Williams, a policy analyst with the foundation, said the public has a right to see government information in an accessible format.

“The data is available,” she said. “It's made with your taxpayer dollars, it's in an Excel spreadsheet on someone's computer.”

Cities already operating under open data legislation are obtaining new information about city living, Williams said. She pointed to public safety examples in Los Angeles and New York City connected to firehouse response times and fallen tree limbs.

“You have 20 cities you can look to, but you're still on the cutting edge,” she said. “This will be the future in most places.”

Melissa Daniels is a Trib Total Media staff writer. She can be reached at 412-380-8511 or mdaniels@tribweb.com.

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