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Organizations submit nominations for existing unpublished data they would like the government to release as open data.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

The local or state government coordinates with OpenDataVote partners and nominating organizations to prioritize publishing data sets that receive the most votes from the public.

Phase 4: Results

Open data access enables 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 team can leverage the results of the first two phases of OpenDataVote as support 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.

We ran OpenDataVote twice in Philadelphia, and we have had several inquiries over the past few years asking about the process. We have developed this guide to help those communities interested in running their own OpenDataVote.

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 OpenDataVote process aims to foster a healthy community supporting release of 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
  • 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
  • Assist government Open Data teams with prioritization of potential data sets to release
  • Attract traffic, attention, and focus to local open data initiatives
  • Maintain or enhance a location’s leadership role in the international open data ecosystem

Planning Stage

There are several steps to opeating an OpenDataVote:

  1. Gather nominations for data sets
  2. Curate the nominations
  3. Invite votes from the public
  4. Announce the winners
  5. Promote the release of data

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 include:

  • support 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.

Invite Sponsors

It is not necessary to have prize money, but offering prize money to winners is one way to encourage organizations to nominate data sets. If you offer prize money, we recommend establishing sponsorship tiers that match marketing activities with specific amounts. 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. This may include asking sponsors to help support the cost of marketing and outreach efforts in the public voting phase as well as asking sponsors for space, refreshments, and door prizes for a closing event to announce the winners of your OpenDataVote.


In the 2011 Philadelphia Open Data Race, a local foundation provided prize money. For the 2017 Philadelphia OpenDataVote, Tech Impact and Azavea solicited sponsors, and 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 may be helpful to set the winner announcement 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 worked backward from the winner announcement date and ran the open voting period from April 10th to May 1st.

Phase 1: Data Set Nomination

Create Data Set Nomination System

Use a Google Form, Typeform, or similar to invite 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.

Organization Outreach

A successful OpenDataVote will need high quality data set nominations. This won’t happen on its own, and you’ll likely need to engage your social network to assemble those nomiations. This may include a range of organizations: nonprofits, corporations, meetups, professional societies, etc. The goal is to encourage them to evaluate existing data sets maintained by the local or regional government and submit nominations for data they would like the government to release as open data.

OpenDataVote can be organized in different ways. In Philadelphia we focused on non-profit organizations and their social impact mission. But the same process could be applied to focus on small business, academic institutions, or other journalists.

Create Outreach Materials

You’ll need to work hard to both invite data set nominations and public voting. You can get the word out by engaging with news media organizations, advisory board members, advocacy groups, and local meetup leaders. Preparing materials in advance will help to tell your story and this may include some of the following:

  • Template emails
  • One page flyer
  • Open data case studies
  • Social media post templates

Leverage Network of Organizations

Ask organizations to help promote the nonprofit nomination stage using their networks, and this may include connecting with 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 2011 and 2017 initiatives 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

Apart from networks of organizations, it can can also be extremely effective to reach out to individual organizations that may have a clear interest in open data. In both 2011 and 2017, many of our nominations came from outreach to individual organizations.

Curate List of Nominations

Some of the nominations you receive will not be a good fit. For example, the data set may sound important but does not, in fact, exist. Or the OpenDataVote is focused on local data sets but the nomination is for data that is managed by the state or province. Or the nominated data set has already been released. Or it’s unclear what the nomination means. You need a clear set of data sets to present to the public. They need to actually exist; they need to be feasible for government entity to deliver; and probably shouldn’t overlap. This is where your Advisory Board can help. The organization team will need to review the list of data set nominations for accuracy. appropriateness, and existential validity. This will likely require vetting with local government agencies or other subject matter experts.

Phase 2: Public 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.

In 2011, we built our own voting platform from scratch. The 2017 Philadelphia OpenDataVote team used a paid SaaS product, Wishpond, for the voting platform, but other platforms may work better for your effort.

In configuring the platform, you may want to consider several questions:</p>

  • How often can people vote? 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. In 2011, inspired by an American Express competition, we allowed people to vote once-per-week. In 2017, we allowed folks to vote once-per-day.
  • Should voters be required to register? A registration requirement may reduce the number of voters, but it may enable you to build a community of people that care about open data.
  • How many votes are allowed per person?
  • How is data set described? Is it clear to a non-technical person?

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’ll likely want to set the open voting period to be 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, and giving them time to do so will increase engagement. In both 2011 and 2017, we set a voting period of about one month.


During OpenDataVote Philly 2017, we engaged the public with a combination of press releases, content marketing, social media outreach, and event attendance. The team even employed a mobile voting booth at local technology meetups and events to bring awareness to the 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. The team can then 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 working with the public agencies to begin the process of publishing the data. Advisory Board members can often help coordinate 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 and what a release might look like.


The City of Philadelphia Office of Open Data and Digital Transformation is focusing some of their release 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)