The following guest post is by Mark Headd, from OpenDataPhilly in Philadelphia.

Earlier this year, with the unveiling of the OpenDataPhilly website, the City of Philadelphia joined the growing fraternity of cities across the country and around the world to release municipal data sets in open, developer friendly formats.

But the City of Brotherly Love did things a bit differently than most of its contemporaries.

The city actively partnered with outside parties, private firms, not-for-profits and universities to help set the direction of the city’s open data efforts.

The OpenDataPhilly website itself, although it’s brimming with data collected and maintained by the city, was developed by the geospatial and civic application firm Azavea and is not hosted or operated by the city. The underlying software that powers (called OpenDataCatalog) is also available under an open source license and can be used by any group wishing to start their own open data program.

The website, and the larger open data effort in Philadelphia, operate under the stewardship of a group which is made up of both public sector and private sector partners.

This partnership around open government data in Philadelphia has raised some unique opportunities for collaboration. This is evident in a recent effort to solicit ideas from those in and around Philadelphia about the specific data sets that should be opened up by the city, formatted for developers and researchers and released through the OpenDataPhilly site.

The OpenDataPhilly team, in partnership with Azavea, NPower Pennsylvania, Technically Philly and the William Penn Foundation, launched an innovative competition called the OpenData Race on September 15.

The OpenData Race was open to not-for-profits that wished to obtain data from the City of Philadelphia to further their missions and to better serve their constituencies. The contest called on these not-for-profits to “nominate” data that is not currently available through the OpenDataPhilly site, or through other sources, for release from the city in an open format. Members of the public were then encouraged to vote for the data set they felt should be released to the public. The non-profits who nominated the data sets that earned the most votes received cash prizes as well as the assistance of the OpenDataPhilly team in encouraging the release of the data.

The process garnered the nomination of dozens of new data sets and thousands of votes cast by supporters and advocates, with winners announced on October 28.

This competition was a departure from the traditional kinds of contests that derive from municipal open data efforts, which typically take the form of hackathons or application building contests. It built on the idea behind the latest “Big Apps” competition in New York City – which asked competitors to name the kinds of open data apps they would like to see developed – by asking consumers of municipal data which data sets they want to see opened up and released to the public.

The partnership in Philadelphia between city officials, not-for profits, private firms and universities was also on display at a recent conference which included city officials and other stakeholders in the Open Data effort.

The Crowdsourcing at the Intersection conference was meant to “[c]elebrate the values of an open access city and show how Philadelphia can achieve that vision.”

It included presentations and discussions from Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and top officials in his administration, local software developers, officials and representatives from Philadelphia’s many colleges and universities as well as members of the public. This conference, and other events like it, will help chart the path forward for the open data effort in Philadelphia.

The unique, collaborative nature of this effort in Philadelphia enables the many organizations and individuals that will potentially benefit from enhanced access to open government data to play an active role in the open data process.

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Theodora is press officer at the Open Knowledge Foundation, based in London. Get in touch via

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