Philadelphia is home to great technology, design, and content communities with many civic-minded professionals interested in improving their city. Over the years we at the Office of Open Data & Digital Transformation (ODDT) have been asked by our private- and nonprofit-sector peers how they can collaborate with us — whether through a contract opportunity or pro bono.

A few weeks ago, during Philly Tech Week, we organized a workshop with over 70 members of these communities — plus City colleagues from the Office of Innovation & Technology, the Procurement Department, the Airport, and more — to brainstorm actionable collaboration opportunities between civic-minded professionals and government. We wanted to understand:

  • In what ways do you want to collaborate?
  • What might get in the way of effective collaboration — for you and for us?

By answering these questions, we hope to:

  • Extend the expertise and diversity of the ODDT team.
  • Ensure our initiatives reflect the people, talent, and rigor of our professional communities.
  • Offer opportunities for local professionals to grow their skill set while using their expertise to help us resolve some of government’s greatest challenges in sustainable ways.

We began the event with a presentation on ODDT’s initiatives to provide context for potential collaborations. Participants then broke into groups based on their discipline: service design/design research, software development, product design, open data, and content strategy.

The groups proposed a variety of ideas for how they might collaborate with ODDT:

  • Advising: Providing advice on approaches to projects and helping us work through project-related challenges as they transpire.
  • Co-designing and design critiquing: Offering feedback and insight on project direction and output through design critiques, content testing, usability testing, and idea generation sessions.
  • Skills sharing and building: ODDT could organize short-term or week-long fellowships, talent swaps, and field trips with local firms.
  • Prioritizing: Helping prioritize datasets for release as open data on OpenDataPhilly.
  • Working on discrete projects: The City could partner with volunteer software developers to build prototypes, helping to shape the vision of an upcoming contract opportunity.
  • Transparency: If we work more in the open — sharing our roadmap and making our GitHub repositories more accessible — it will be easier for our peers to contribute.

Alongside the ideas, the groups called out constraints that can make collaborating difficult or impractical:

  • Communication: It can be difficult to know how to engage with the City. ODDT could develop effective communication strategies to open pathways to opportunities and bridge relationships.
  • Timing: Many working professionals are busy during the hours of 9 to 5. Volunteer engagements shouldn’t interfere with paid work hours.
  • Project scope and timeline: Volunteer-based projects should be realistically scoped, so all are set up for success (e.g., agreed upon roles, responsibilities, practical timing expectations, and reasonable deliverable milestones).
  • Ethics: Because pro bono work can be used as a competitive advantage in a future contract opportunity, we must ensure our volunteer opportunities comply with the City’s ethics rules.
  • Governance and maintenance: Projects need to address who will own and maintain the output once volunteers leave.
  • Capacity: Volunteer engagements, particularly client-facing ones, require management and staff time; volunteers need to balance the project with the rest of their work. Projects should have realistic boundaries.

The groups then began to synthesize ideas and constraints into practical collaboration opportunities. We’ll continue to build on this work, integrating what we heard, and piloting the most promising collaborations later this year. Please stay tuned!

Thank you to everyone who attended our workshop and engaged in thoughtful conversation. We were happy to share the evening with new and old friends. If you have additional thoughts, please email us.