In keeping with its promise to open the windows of city government, the City of Pittsburgh has launched Pittsburgh Data Forum, an online platform that allows residents to identify what data they want to see and why.

The Forum, the next step in the city’s effort to offer access to city data sets on everything from building permits to 311 data, has been a work in progress since February 2014 when the city passed the Open Data Law.

Introduced by Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak with the support of Mayor Bill Peduto, the law outlines the city’s commitment to developing a public portal that gives anyone access to data collected and/or maintained by city government.

Launched last week, the forum is already hosting lively conversations.

“I hope this will be a community conversation that allows people to go back and forth and work together to share ideas and information, says Laura Meixell, analytics and strategy manager for the city.

Among them is a report card on utility use and costs for city-owned buildings, data on parking permits and visitor passes issued to city residents and a GPS app to locate the positions of the city snow plows.

“I would like data on how much bike commuting there is right now and if it increases as lanes are added,” suggests Ed H.

“We see this as a way for citizens, local nonprofits and neighborhood associations to tell us what they are looking for to further their missions,” adds Meixell. “The more people who have a sense of the kind of data they need, the better the site will be.”

The Forum, an embedded widget from the city’s community forum Engage Pittsburgh, is just the beginning of what’s to come, she adds. Once city staff prioritizes the data requests, staff will begin an internal investigation to assess the availability and quality of the data.

The ultimate goal is the creation of a platform that may be used by university researchers, businesses and others to provide data for research projects and businesses.

“We have really big plans, but nothing we can release yet,” she says.

“In general, we want to be more transparent and clear about city operations,” says Meixell. “From the city perspective, we want to be more of a partner (with nonprofits and others) in that by giving them easier access.”

Deb Smit

Deb is an award-winning journalist who loves ancient places and cool technologies. A former daily newspaper reporter and Time-Life Books editor, she writes mostly about Pittsburgh. Her stories have appeared...