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Health, Science & Tech

Right to Know Law Could Be Less Important with #OpenPgh

Jacob Caddy

Pittsburgh plans to join 19 other American cities and counties in releasing city data for public use online. As the city works out the details of how this initiative will take shape, they’re looking for public input.

Debra Lam, Mayor Peduto's pick for Chief of Innovation & Performance and Laura Meixell, data and analytics manager for the City of Pittsburgh, say the initial ordinance brought to city council last month is meant to change the perceptions of how Pittsburghers think about data and city disclosure of information.

“It sets the default to open.” Laura Meixell explains, “There’s a whole variety of state laws around what information is public and what isn’t, in the PA Right to Know law. And here in the city we’ve been following those rules since that legislation was enacted, but much more on the basis of, if folks asked for information we would provide it. With this [open data] legislation we’re going to  have the chance to go ahead and be proactive, to open things up and to make things more available and useful in the short term.”

City organizations have encouraged the software community to creatively use municipal data, even before the introduction of this legislation, through Steel City Codefest.

It’s a 24 hour marathon for coders, designers, and innovators interested in creating an app using public data. Jennifer Wilhelm is the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Strategist, and coordinator of Codefest, now in its second year.

This year’s contest focuses on, not only city data, but also information gathered by organizations such as Bike Pittsburgh.

“A lot of people can look through databases." Says Wilhelm "But it doesn’t necessarily help them, it doesn’t necessarily mean anything to them in that format. So how do you then take that data and create something that’s useful for organizations, for people that live around Pittsburgh?”

This year’s Steel City Codefest starts February 22 and the open data ordinance will be up for a vote in city council later this month. City officials continue to look for input on the types of data people would like to be made available.