Pittsburgh, PA: How open data has become a backbone of the civic-tech ecosystem

An application of our community-engagement impact framework

The Western Pennsylvania Regional Data Center, which is managed by the University of Pittsburgh in partnership with the City of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County, sees community engagement as an essential component of its work. As a data intermediary, WPRDC manages open data on behalf of the city, county, and other partners, while also helping people “find and use information to improve their communities.”  

Bob Gradeck, the Project Director of WPRDC, says that despite having a small team, they still dedicate a decent amount of time doing outreach, having meetings with partners, and hosting office hours. According to Gradeck, there’s really no better way of learning about how communities are using their data unless they’re out there, engaging with users.

We applied our community engagement impact framework to summarize and assess the potential outcomes and impacts of WPRDC’s engagement work, which they already carefully track with the performance metrics dashboard

1. Inputs

High-quality, easily accessible open data

  • WPRDC Open Data has 324 datasets available 

Resources and tutorials available for users with varying degrees of data skills

Opportunities for users to engage with the open data portal

2. Activities

Host or participate in community meetings about open data to share information and solicit input from community members

  • WPRDC hosts monthly or bimothly office hours, an opportunity for users “to ask in-depth questions about how to use and apply data, discuss project ideas, get help with software and other tools, and explore points of confusion or interest that cannot be fully addressed by the website”

Host or partner with in-person or online trainings or workshops around using open data

Launch partnerships with local journalists, academics, community organizations, and civic-tech groups

Showcase stories and tools built with open data (by WPRDC, local government, and community partners)

  • WPRDC Tools feature projects and services that have been developed using WPRDC hosted data 

Distribute newsletters or blog posts sharing open data updates

Share updates, respond to users, promote open data, and solicit feedback on social media

3. Outputs

Number of users

Chart of the number of users by month

(image via WPRDC’s performance management dashboard)

Classroom uses of open data

  • WPRDC tracks known uses of their data at local universities by term:

Chart of the number of classroom uses of WPRDC data

(image via WPRDC’s performance management dashboard)

News articles referencing WPRDC in 2018–2019:

News articles citing WPRDC datasets as source:

Research articles citing WPRDC open data as a source

Data stories or tools developed by individual residents or community organizations

  • WPRDC Tools showcase products such as: 
    • 8 tools developed by WPRDC 
    • 4 by Allegheny County
    • 6 bycommunity members/partners
    • 1 by the City of Pittsburgh

4/5. Outcomes and Impacts

An obvious outcome from WPRDC’s engagement work is the fact that they have a strong sense of who is using their data and why. Having this understanding allows them to continually assess the longer term influence they have on the individuals and organizations using their data, and this in turn helps them evaluate their impact.

As noted in our explanation of this framework, outcomes and impacts can be very difficult to quantify. We do not have available a list of precise measures of outcomes and impacts for this Pittsburgh/WPRDC example — but we hope that the content above still gives a sense of how this framework might be applied. To see more potential outcomes and impacts of this type of work, take a look at our Louisville application of this framework.