How to Run OpenDataVote in Your City

Documentation to guide public, private, and nonprofit sector partnerships with the community


What is OpenDataVote?

OpenDataVote is a collaborative initiative that encourages citizens and community organizations to get involved in the process of open government and cultivates government transparency through the release of data.

OpenDataVote is organized into 4 phases:

Phase 1: Nomination

Organizations submit nominations for existing unpublished data they would like the government to release as open data.

Phase 2: Voting

The general public votes for the data nomination that they would like published as open data.

Phase 3: Data Release

Local government coordinates with OpenDataVote partners and nominating organizations to publish data sets that receive the most votes from the public.

Phase 4: Results

Open data access allows participating organizations, government agencies, and the general public to complete projects that benefit the community.

Government agencies may not be able to promise that data will be released, however, government data offices often appreciate understanding what data citizens value most. An open data office (or similar) can use the results of the first two phases of OpenDataVote as leverage when requesting to publish data from other agencies or departments.


In 2011, shortly after the launch of OpenDataPhilly, the regional open data repository project team launched a public awareness campaign similar to OpenDataVote in order to encourage the City of Philadelphia to release more data sets that could potentially serve the nonprofit community. The effort was quite successful - it attracted more attention to the community-driven open data effort in Philadelphia and many of the nominated data sets have been released in the years since.

The OpenDataPhilly project team was encouraged by these successes and decided to launch a similar public awareness campaign. In 2017, Azavea partnered with Tech Impact, Media, Generocity, Code for Philly, the City of Philadelphia Office of Open Data & Digital Transformation, the Penn Library, and others to run OpenDataVote to promote the use of open data and the Philadelphia region open data repository, OpenDataPhilly.


OpenDataVote in Philadelphia engaged about two dozen nonprofit organizations and gathered over 2,500 votes from the public. The City of Philadelphia is coordinating with the participating nonprofit organizations to publish the data on OpenDataPhilly.

Read more about the generous sponsors and winning organizations for the 2017 OpenDataVote in Philadelphia on the History page.

Why Host OpenDataVote?

Data analysis and visualization are important advocacy tools and have been used to help nonprofits acquire funding and government agencies choose priority locations for programming. But, for these projects to take place, you need access to data.

Government agencies gather and maintain data that can be essential to projects that support communities from the local to national level. One of the main objectives of OpenDataVote is to encourage government agencies to provide open access to the data they collect and maintain.

The Sunlight Foundation published, ”Arguments for data transparency — a list for advocates”, which summarizes the benefits of open data in different sectors.

The process of OpenDataVote helps to foster a healthy community around the process of publishing open data and using that data for projects that create positive impact.

By hosting OpenDataVote, your city, state, or country can exemplify the importance of open data by leveraging the needs of real use-cases by organizations in the community and involving the public in voting for data that is required for projects.


The format of OpenDataVote can be slightly different depending on the location, but in general, the goals of OpenDataVote initiatives are similar:

  • Encourage non-profit organizations to see open data as a resource for pursuing their mission
  • Maintain or enhance a location’s leadership role in the international open data ecosystem
  • Attract traffic, attention, and focus to local open data initiatives
  • Assist government Open Data teams with prioritization of potential data sets to release
  • Help organizations gain access to data curated and maintained by the government so that they can conduct analyses and create applications and visualizations that inform the public

Planning Stage

Assemble Team of Partners

Organize Advisory Board

OpenDataVote works best when individuals or organizations collaborate to represent and engage a diverse group of nonprofit or private sector organizations and citizens. Identify leaders that match the scale of your effort.

The functions of the Advisory Board are to help with outreach to potential nominating organizations, cooperate with government open data office staff to curate a viable list of nominations, and confirm the winners of OpenDataVote by review the voting platform responses.

One of the most essential partners in an OpenDataVote initiative is the public sector agency or department that oversees open data policies and repository maintenance. Without at least some level of cooperation from the government, the end result of your OpenDataVote effort will be inconclusive.

See the Resources section for lists of locations with Chief Data Officers and open data policies.

Collaborate with Sponsors

Offering prize money to winners is one way to encourage organizations to nominate data sets.

Set up sponsorship tiers to allow a sponsor to choose a specific amount. For example, if the Advisory Board delineates target prize levels, a sponsor can elect to sponsor “the first place award” or similar.

Sponsors can also help to offset the costs of outreach and events. Ask sponsors to help support the cost of marketing and outreach efforts as you engage the public in the voting phase. Seek sponsors for space, refreshments, and door prizes for a closing event to announce the winners of your OpenDataVote.


During the 2017 Philadelphia OpenDataVote, Tech Impact and Azavea solicited sponsors and coordinated the conveyance of checks to the winning nonprofit organizations. Thanks to donations from the Knight Foundation and ReedTech, $8,000 in prizes were awarded.

Schedule Timeline

Define the milestone dates for your OpenDataVote. Important dates include:

  • Data nomination application opens
  • Data nomination application closes
  • Voting begins
  • Voting ends
  • Winners announced

It can be helpful to set the ending date for your OpenDataVote and work backwards. It’s best to schedule a few weeks for each phase of OpenDataVote. During Phase 1, the organizing team and/or Advisory Board will need to contact potential nominating organizations and work with them to create viable nominations. The Advisory Board will then need to curate a list of data set nominations before launching the voting application. For Phase 2, choose a block of time long enough that you can spread the message to the public.


During OpenDataVote Philly 2017, the voting period was aligned with Philly Tech Week, a week of about 100 tech events in Philadelphia. The team wanted to announce the winners of OpenDataVote during Philly Tech Week, so they backtracked from the end date and ran the open voting period from April 10th to May 1st.

Phase 1: Nomination

Create Data Set Nomination System

Use a Google Form, Typeform, or similar to record nominations.

The data set nomination form should include questions similar to the following:

  • Contact information such as name, title, organization, and email/phone number
  • What data set would you like to nominate?
  • How will releasing this data support your organization’s mission?
  • Do you have a specific initiative or project in mind that could leverage this data?

It’s important that the nominating organizations highlight their goals for the use of the proposed data release; how will the release of this data benefit their organization, other organizations, and the community?


During OpenDataVote Philly 2017 we used a Google Form and accepted data sets from nonprofit organizations that served the Philadelphia region. We wanted to ensure that the City of Philadelphia Office of Open Data and Digital Transformation had examples of the way that nonprofits would use the data to use as leverage when lobbying for the release of data sets at the later phases of OpenDataVote.

Begin Organization Outreach

Engage organizations - nonprofits, corporations, working groups, professional societies, etc. - through outreach to encourage them to evaluate existing data sets maintained by the regional government and submit nominations for data they would like the government to release as open data.

OpenDataVote can be organized in different ways. Instead of soliciting ideas from only nonprofit organizations, one can ask private companies to contribute data set nominations.

Create Press Kit

A Press Kit can be distributed to media organizations, Advisory Board members, advocacy groups, and local meetup leaders. Providing outreach resources sets the press team up for success because it lowers to barriers to publication by completed the heavy lifting ahead of time. It also allows your team to have some control over the content that is created.

Here are some examples of assets that you can include in your Press Kit:

  • Template email to be used for outreach
  • One page flyer to be used for outreach
  • Images to be included with outreach
  • List of social media posts

Leverage Network of Organizations

Ask organizations to promote the nonprofit nomination stage using their networks. It’s best to reach organizations with a mailing list or network of organizations in your target demographic.

Are you focusing on nonprofits for your iteration of OpenDataVote (similar to the 2017 initiative in Philly)? Do you want to involve private sector organizations that could benefit from the release of data maintained by the government?

Consider these types of organizations:

  • Local media outlet
  • Foundations
  • Community organizations
  • Meetup groups
  • Local Code for America chapter
  • Local NetSquared chapter

Curate List of Nominations

This is where your Advisory Board comes in. Review the list of data set nominations for accuracy. Public sector partners must have a high level of confidence that the data set nomination exists and can be formatted in a way that can be published as open data.

Phase 2: Voting

Set Up Voting Platform

Determine what voting plan your team will use. The voting platform should support features like different voting modes (weekly for individuals, daily voting, etc), mobile compatibility, and interface customization.


The 2017 Philadelphia OpenDataVote team used a paid SaaS product for the voting platform. Individuals were allowed to vote once-per-day during the voting period.

2017 Philadelphia OpenDataVote voting platform Sample of the voting platform used during the 2017 Philadelphia OpenDataVote

Launch Public Voting Phase

It’s important to coordinate outreach with the start of the public voting period. You can set the voting parameters based on your specific OpenDataVote initiative; you can allow people to submit votes daily, weekly, or once for the duration of the voting.

Set the open voting period long enough that the Advisory Board, Partners, Sponsors, and nominating organizations are able to do outreach. Typically the organizations that engage their networks and actively contact their supporters receive the most votes.


During OpenDataVote Philly 2017, a combination of press releases, content marketing, social media outreach, and event attendance was used to engage the public. The team even deployed a mobile voting booth to bring awareness to OpenDataVote!

OpenDataVote voting booth at a local tech event during Philly Tech Week 2017 OpenDataVote voting booth at a local tech event during Philly Tech Week 2017

OpenDataVote organizer Dan Ford interviewed at an event with the OpenDataVote voting booth OpenDataVote organizer Dan Ford interviewed at an event with the OpenDataVote voting booth

Announce Winners

After the period of voting closes, the Advisory Board should review the results. Then, the team can notify participating organizations about the outcome.

Submit the results of your OpenDataVote to the national team so that your information can be added to the OpenDataVote website.

Closing Event

Consider hosting an event to announce the organizations and data nominations that received the most votes. Invite participating organizations, sponsors, partners, and the Advisory Board about the event. Prepare certificates to award to participating organizations and winners.

2017 Philadelphia OpenDataVote winning organizations announced during a Philly Tech Week event 2017 Philadelphia OpenDataVote winning organizations announced during a Philly Tech Week event

Working Towards Data Releases

After your team determines which data sets received the most votes, it’s time to start communicating with the public agency or department representative to begin the process of publishing the data.

Advisory Board members can often manage coordination with the public sector partner to prioritize open data releases. The nonprofit or private sector nominating organizations can also communicate directly with the public sector partner to discuss data nomination details.


The City of Philadelphia Office of Open Data and Digital Transformation is focusing their efforts on data sets that received the most votes from the public during the 2017 OpenDataVote in Philly.


Open Data Repositories & Data Officer Contacts

Chief Data Officers and Chief Data Scientists for Federal Agencies
Curated and Maintained by Project Open Data

Chief Data Officers: Mapping Which State and Local Governments Have a CDO
Curated and Maintained by Government Technology

Locations with an Open Data Policy
Curated and Maintained by OpenDataPolicies (started by the Sunlight Foundation)

Open Data Policy Information

Does your locality have an Open Data Policy? Review these resources to see if your city is on track.

Model Open Data Directive adapted from President Obama’s Executive Order
Source: OpenColorado

Examples & Benefits of Open Data Policies
Source: Open Council Data

Open Data Policy Guidelines
Source: The Sunlight Foundation

Open Government Information (including global map of data repositories)