Information Intermediary Initiative: Western Pennsylvania Regional Data Center
- Scope of Influence
- Start Date
- Time Limited or Repeated?
- A single, defined period of time
- Face-to-Face, Online, or Both
- Decision Methods
- Not Applicable
- Communication of Insights & Outcomes
- New Media
The W Pennsylvania Data Center is a community information intermediary, providing the technological and legal infrastructure necessary for open data sharing and use between public institutions, citizens, academics, and civil society groups.
Problems and Purpose
While communities in Western Pennsylvania, led by Pittsburgh, have sought to be at the forefront of government open data projects, these data sets are scattered across the over 130 municipalities within Allegheny County alone. To remedy this problem and create a unified data hub for all of Western Pennsylvania, the Western Pennsylvania Regional Data Center (WPRDC) was established in 2015.
Background History and Context
In 2014, newly-elected Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto introduced a city bill mandating the release of public data sets. This marked the beginning of efforts to collect relevant data - from information about street cleanings to air quality - in one central repository.
In 2015, a grant from the Richard King Mellon Foundation to the University of Pittsburgh Center for Urban and Social Research allowed for the development and launch of the Western Pennsylvania Regional Data Center. The WPRDC functions as a ‘data intermediary,’ a model developed by the Urban Institute’s National Neighborhood Indicators Project, a partnership with 30 American cities. As a ‘data intermediary,’ the WPRDC is charged with not only collecting information from public agencies in Western Pennsylvania, but also with disseminating and translating the data into insights about community well-being. 
Originating, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The WPRDC is run by the University of Pittsburgh Center for Urban and Social Research, in partnership with the City of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County. It was initially funded with a $1.8 million grant from the Richard King Mellon Foundation. 
Participant Recruitment and Selection
The platform is designed to be as open as possible not only to users but also to potential data-sharing partners. To submit data sets, an organization only needs to sign a standard data deposit agreement, a brief 2-page document that allows submitting agencies to designate the licensing agreement under which their data will be available to users. Visitors to the WPRDC website, meanwhile, must accept a standard data use agreement. Acceptance of these agreements is the only requirement to participate on the platform as a user or partner. 
Methods and Tools Used
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Deliberation, Decisions, and Public Interaction
In addition to hosting data, WPRDC has been actively involved in working with users to identify needs and training Western Pennsylvanians to expand interest in civic data. The WPRDC has hosted a series of popular ‘Data 101’ workshops at Pittsburgh libraries, with lectures and exercises aimed at helping participants learn to create and effectively use data visualizations. Over 3,000 residents have attended these training sessions. 
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
Since its launch in 2015, the Western Pennsylvania Regional Data Center has more than doubled the number of data sets hosted, with over 160 sets hosted and over 2,000 unique visitors to the website. As the WPRDC continues to grow, it has developed a performance evaluation plan with metrics designed to ensure growth across four criteria: information reaching users, user interaction with data, changes in user attitudes towards data, and users taking action by using data. 
Analysis and Lessons Learned
As a new initiative, it is difficult to assess the success of the WPRDC. However, the strong immediate uptake demonstrates the usefulness of the ‘data intermediary’ model, which can collect data from more than one jurisdiction, enriching research and allowing regular users to make comparisons across towns and even counties in the region.
Official site: http://www.wprdc.org/
NNIP framework for assessing regional data intermediaries: http://www.urban.org/research/publication/monitoring-impact-performance-management-local-data-intermediaries
Lead image: University of Pittsburgh Center for Social & Urban Research https://goo.gl/ZQXUxE