NoWait. Photo by Rob Larson

The City of Pittsburgh unanimously approved the Open Data Law on Tuesday, blasting open the musty drawers of city government to streamline city services and facilitate future research.

So how will this change your life going forward, you might ask?

“This bill is really exciting because it sets the tone and creates the infrastructure to make it all happen,” says Laura Meixell, the city’s first analytics and strategy manager who will oversee the open data overhaul.

“It’s revolutionary in that it sets the city’s default to open, opening up the whole universe of data that’s held by the city.”

The city will spend the coming year bringing city departments together to address the scope of work and establishing public forums to seek feedback.

The legislation provides the foundation for a data-driven government, opening up government books and sharing information with the public on everything from city permits to what streets are being plowed during a snowstorm. 

The Open Data Law was a major platform of Mayor Bill Peduto’s campaign.

The city will immediately convene an open data management team consisting of representatives from all the city departments. The team will work together to outline each department’s mission as it relates to open data, says Meixell.

Secondly, an open data catalogue will be created to take stock of all the information available, where it’s held and what state it’s in.

Residents of the city are asked to assist the effort. A public platform will be launched called the Pittsburgh Data Forum, modeled after a similar forum in Philadelphia.

Residents and businesses are encouraged to submit  ideas to spark conversations around information that is needed and how it is needed, whether a way to track permits for a home renovation or to obtain data for university research.

Finally, an organization called OpenPGH will be formed as part of the Code for America Brigade Project, encouraging data users, techies,  researchers and others to join monthly meetings to provide feedback.

“We’re only beginning to tell these stories so we want to be sure that what we’re releasing is really useful,” says Meixell.  

City data sets should start appearing on the portal by the end of 2014. “We want to spend the time to do it right,” she says.

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 in Fast Company, Ozy and Pittsburgh Magazine.