The Western Pennsylvania Regional Data Center was unveiled Thursday, October 15 by Mayor Bill Peduto, city officials, Allegheny County, and the University of Pittsburgh. The data repository service houses public information previously spread out across many different platforms, which required cumbersome procedures to access. The new data center makes it possible for anyone to access the data sets submitted by government, non-profits, and academic institutions. Users can easily view and export the data for their own analysis. The University of Pittsburgh Center for Social and Urban Research is overseeing the project.

Friday, October 16, Bob Gradeck of the University of Pittsburgh Center for Social and Urban Research gave a talk at the School of Information Sciences about the data center and what it can offer as an information intermediary. The available data sets are electronic, machine readable, non-proprietary file formats and easily made into visualizations by Tableau. All contributors are asked to sign an agreement before publishing data to ensure that privacy standards and licensing requirements are met. Publishers are also asked to include metadata with their data sets.

According to Gradeck, an important thing to emerge from this project are the relationships built between the project personel and the data owners. These new lines of communication will ensure that more and more data will be published in a timely and relevant manner for the public to view.

Gradeck praised the county for their involvement and diligence in publishing datasets early on and the University Library System for assisting and consulting on issues surrounding the repository.

This project has opened up doors for other activities and opportunities to discuss open data, how it is used, and how people would like to use it. Gradeck touched on the possibility of bringing together data user groups semi-regularly to use data as a basis for conversation about varying topics.

While the data center is very new, it already has over 100 datasets uploaded by local organizations. Users also have the ability to request datasets they are interested in, although that is not a guarantee the data will be published.

The hope is that by making this data easily accessible by anyone, the region can start to get a bigger picture of certain issues and allow the community itself to get involved in using the data to help solve problems in their own neighborhoods. While many local regions are participating in the Western Pennsylvania Data Center, there are some that are not. Closing this gap in order to work on an even broader set of problems is a future goal.

Visit the user friendly website at www.wprdc.org and explore what the Western Pennsylvania Data Center has to offer for your projects and personal interests.