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Politics & Government

With Peduto's Support, Rudiak Introduces Open Data Bill in Council

With the support of Mayor Bill Peduto, City Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak has introduced legislation to establish a comprehensive open data ordinance for the city of Pittsburgh.

If the bill passes, Pittsburgh would join New York City, San Francisco and more than a dozen other cities that have embraced public data sharing.

Rudiak said in a news conference Tuesday that the ordinance would go above and beyond the current Right to Know law, which requires that government agencies provide information to the public upon request.

“Right to Know is about asking for information, about going through the Law Department, about encountering red tape,” Rudiak said. “This bill is about giving the information. It’s about unlocking the information and not having to go through months of red tape to obtain it.”

Rudiak and Peduto said they expect Pittsburgh’s technology community to welcome the release of large amounts of raw data about city services, crime, infrastructure and more. They anticipate the creation of mobile apps that will make city data easier for the general public to digest.

“All the complaints that have come in regarding potholes can easily be put on a map, and you can look and see each week the number of potholes are being reported, where they’re being reported, what areas of the city are having the most problems with potholes,” Peduto said.

Peduto said implementation of the ordinance would carry a price tag of about $100,000 in personnel costs. He also said that a data-driven approach to governance will require technology upgrades throughout the city, but that those upgrades are needed anyway. In the end, Peduto said, the benefits will outweigh the costs.

“It’s a cost benefit to the city of Pittsburgh, because we’re going to get tech firms and savvy tech individuals and app developers and other people working for free with our data to make it more useful for people,” Peduto said.

Rudiak echoed that sentiment, saying that it will save City Council staffers a lot of time and that her colleagues in council are largely supportive of the legislation.

“The fact of the matter is that our council staffers have difficult time often finding this information,” Rudiak said. “I think it can make everybody’s jobs easier.”

Matt Barron, Peduto’s policy manager, said the aggregation and sharing of large amounts of city data is foundational to the new mayor’s performance-based approach to governance.

“You can’t have a true performance-based budget, a true performance-based government unless you’re actually measuring how you’re performing,” Barron said. “We can’t truly measure how we’re performing unless departments are sharing information with one another and sharing that information with the public.”

Peduto acknowledged that the goal of putting online massive amounts of data — presented in varied formats and sourced from every city department — is going to be a big challenge, which is why he created a new position within City Information Systems, or CIS.

Laura Meixell is the new Data & Analytics Manager at CIS, and she said it will probably take about six months to roll out the data-sharing program.

Meixell is a Pittsburgh native and a 2013 Code for America Fellow, which provided her the opportunity to do open data work for the city of Louisville, Ky. Prior to that, she worked for the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Peduto said the successful implementation of an open-data program will allow city government to look inward, to see where its strengths and weaknesses lie, and to find out what improvements can be made.

“Most importantly, we can hold ourselves accountable,” Peduto said. “We have the ability now to measure. And like they say, if you aren’t measuring, you’re just practicing.”