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Pennsylvania Just Launched a State-Level Open Data Program

Pennsylvania State Capitol

Pennsylvania State Capitol Pennsylvania Governor's Office / Flickr.com

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf issued an executive order Monday afternoon establishing a strategic approach to state agencies’ open data, which will be published on a forthcoming, centralized Web portal.

The Keystone State launched the budget transparency site, PennWATCH, in December 2012 but only a year ago began thinking about an open data program and prioritizing datasets with agencies.

Under the executive order, state agencies are required to work with the Office of Administration to secure sensitive information and release “valuable” datasets—leaving what’s published up to government discretion.

“We sit on so much data that could be really useful to research universities, state universities, businesses, and citizens,” Sharon Minnich, secretary of the Office of Administration, told Route Fifty in an interview. “As well as provide improved services to the commonwealth.”

The Office of Administration oversees information technology for the state and will spend its time outlining dataset governance policies and procedures through August, when the open data portal goes live.

Initial datasets will focus on performance in areas like job creation, workforce development, education, energy, infrastructure, inspections, and public safety. Recidivism data patterns might soon inform policy decisions regarding officer placement at the local level.

The state has also reached out to innovative cities like Pittsburgh about future releases featuring data helpful to local research and policymaking. Philadelphia will be contacted once its mayoral transition feels complete, Minnich said.

“We want to make sure the data is useful to our communities,” she said.

Making open data searchable and comparable is a priority, Minnich added, and the state Office of Open Records’ executive director approves of a new portal, which currently lacks a name.

“I think the important part is to have a central focus so that we allow citizens and businesses an easy way to find our datasets,” Minnich said. “If each of our agencies publishes datasets independently, it’s sort of hard to find and hard to use the data.”

Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor at Government Executive’s Route Fifty. (Photo by the Pennsylvania Governor's Office / Flickr.com)

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