On August 11 of this year a bucket of wiping cloth sanitizer registered above required concentration was found at a local coffee shop. In order to obtain this information I didn’t have to sort through piles of Department of Health files—there is, indeed, an app for that, and it was created by local programmers for good, Code for Hampton Roads.
“Our goal was to make existing information easier to find so that restaurant goers can arrive at a
more informed decision,” said Tommy Tavenner, a co-developer of the site. “OpenHealthInspections provides plain English descriptions for any health code violations as well as whether they have been corrected.”
The information out there is infinite. This is a great example of developers using their skills–and the power of computers–to serve their community.
“Restaurant inspection data in the open data world is very rich,” explained Code for Hampton Roads’ Stanley Zheng. “It’s relevant, well curated, and immediately actionable by a consumer. The only drawback is, in its current form, you have to navigate to a web page and jump through 6 pages of links to just get to the ‘NORFOLK’ directory.”
Not only does this help improve restaurant-goers’ ability to make educated decisions, in the long term it should lead to healthier restaurants altogether, improving “the whole ecosystem,” as stated by Code for America’s Kevin Curry.
“We’ve always assumed that the system must be working because it exists,” Curry went on. “Inspectors inspect. They cite issues, file reports and changes happen. Good, right? What else do we need to know? But what we assume isn’t often the case. Bureaucracy rules. Many bad actors survive on bureaucracy. Many good actors go unnoticed in the bureaucracy. But when we open data to the public, and especially consumers, people notice and change happens.”
The site was entirely a volunteer effort, originally pitched at a national hackathon event at Dominion Enterprises last winter, and led by Ben Schoenfeld, Tommy Tavenner and Blaine Price. Information feeding into the site and the app comes from HealthSpace.com and the Virginia Department of Health.
Zheng concurred with Curry’s belief that apps like these lead to better government.
“Local health departments are city departments just like any other government organization, and they’re all strapped on diminishing budgets,” he said. “Less budget means less staff and inspectors, which could lead to lower standards and possible hazards to public safety. But this is the 20th century. We have apps to solve everything, so how can we innovate in this space? We keep the players honest.”
To look up the cleanliness of your favorite restaurant, check out the website.