Philadelphia Open Data Portal Survey Reveals Importance of Visualizations for Academic, Non Profit Work

Philadelphia’s Office of Innovation and Technology recently conducted the 2020 PHL Open Data survey of the usage of its open-data portal. The Office of Innovation & Technology (OIT) contributes more than 245 datasets to the portal, which was developed by Azavea, a local geospatial software company.  At least 92% of respondents stated that the portal’s visualizations – dashboards, interactive maps, and charts – were helpful to their academic and nonprofit work projects.

“It feels very clear that people find this very helpful in terms of work goals, personal goals and even community goals,” Kistine Carolan, the manager of Philadelphia’s open-data program, said.

The portal offers datasets on city programs – such as arts and cultural sites, zoning, budgeting, and financial disclosures. Users were asked why they visited the data portal – if it was for work, fun, or academic projects; how often they used the city’s open data; what software and tools they use in conjunction with the data; and were given the opportunity to suggest feedback or new datasets that the city should publish.

The majority of the responses came from nonprofits using the portal’s interactive maps to either refer a person to the nearest community resource or as evidence when applying for a grant or advocating for policy. Academics are using the portal to embed open data into homework assignments or use the data for independent research. Representatives of community organizations find the portal’s data sets useful in planning business corridors, zoning limitations, and testing out new products in certain neighborhoods.

“We have always recognized the importance of geographic information systems (GIS) and data sharing—both are necessary for informing key decisions,” said chief information officer, Mark Wheeler. “As we continue to grow our open data practices, we want to consider the needs of our users—what’s successful, difficult, or lacking when it comes to data sharing in Philadelphia. The goal of this survey is to help us continue prioritizing open data and making it as meaningful as possible for city residents.”