When we launched the PHL Participatory Design Lab, one of our first commitments was to work openly.

This means making our research methods as publicly available as possible so that residents and researchers can see what we’re doing, ask questions, and learn from our work. Many of the City’s code projects are available to the public on the City’s GitHub page, one of several web-based hosting platforms where users can create and share coding projects.

Here are three ways you can interact with the City’s coding projects through this platform!

1. You can look at other people’s software projects.

Instead of showing off pictures of a new dog or family vacation like people do on traditional social networks, users share coding projects they’ve worked on. They can discuss and contribute to projects they’re interested in getting their hands on or want to help make changes to. Users can also peer review coding projects and ask questions. For example, a web developer might be interested in the City’s new Parks and Rec finder and follow a link to that project’s GitHub page where they can see how it works and make suggestions.

The social networking feature allows them to easily connect with authors, express interest, and establish trust.

2. You can check out projects the City and the PHL Participatory Design Lab are working on.

The City of Philadelphia has a public GitHub account, and we use it a lot!

Anybody can log in and see everything that we’re working on. For instance, the PHL Participatory Design Lab team has been utilizing GitHub to design an experiment for the Department of Revenue in an effort to improve their Owner-Occupied Payment Agreement program. The City also uses GitHub to build its website.

Even for non-coders, the City’s GitHub page is an easy way to tune in to the digital side of City government. By putting our work online, others can see what we’re doing, ask questions, suggest improvements, and build on our work.

3. You can build or improve your coding skills.

Are you an aspiring coder or just interested in developing the skill? Most open software projects give a plain-language explanation of the purpose of the code and how the authors created it, and projects range from personal hobbies to major open-source software development. Users can also “fork” or copy code to their own accounts to play with safely, and ask questions if they run into problems.

This allows users to learn, familiarize themselves with the language, and even replicate code. Open coding platforms connect coders of all skill sets across the world. How cool is that?