San Francisco is perhaps known best for two things: its vibrant and diverse restaurant scene that attracts food lovers worldwide, and an equally thriving tech industry that draws a healthy population of data-loving, app-wielding geeks.
Both groups had occasion to celebrate this morning, when San Francisco’s Mayor Ed Lee and the popular restaurant review site Yelp jointly announced an exciting step forward for foodies and data enthusiasts alike — not only in San Francisco but all over the country.
The City and County of San Francisco, City of New York, and Yelp have collaborated to develop the Local Inspector Value-entry Specification (LIVES): an open data standard which allows municipalities to publish restaurant inspection information to Yelp or any other website that provides restaurant listings.
City-provided health score information about San Francisco restaurants will now be integrated into Yelp restaurant reviews. Users can see an easy-to-understand health score next to other information about hours and delivery options, and click through to see more detailed inspection history. Similar features will be rolled out for New York in the weeks ahead, with other cities expected to follow soon.
So what does this mean?
More informed decisions
First of all, more accessible, user-friendly information empowers us make more informed decisions as consumers. For many of us (Yelp has more than 84 million users per month), checking Yelp reviews is part of the routine when picking a spot for Friday date night or finding a restaurant to meet a friend for lunch. Through the LIVES integration, now we can base on decisions on where to dine not only the quality of the service or whether it’s vegan-friendly, but also on the establishment’s adherence to food safety practices.
Promoting public health
This can lead to real, quantifiable improvements in public health. When the City of Los Angeles began to require that restaurants display hygiene grade cards on their entrances, studies found it was associated with a 13 percent decrease in hospitalizations due to food borne illness. Digital disclosure by making this data available online in consumer-friendly formats can have the same effect.
For Jay Nath, San Francisco’s Chief Innovation Officer who helped spearhead the initiative, this is one of the most exciting possibilities: “A year from now, I’d love to see the impact be lower rates of food borne illnesses in San Francisco” said Nath. “That’s when the benefits of open data become tangible.”
Better incentives for food safety
And it can change the way the local restaurant industry operates too, since increased visibility of this information to customers can encourage more restaurants to strive for a higher rating.
“This open data resource will also support our restaurant industry,” commented Barbara Garcia, Director of Health at the San Francisco Department of Public Health. “Creating sunshine on this data will motivate some restaurants to improve food safety processes.” The City plans to measure the outcomes of the initiative, she added, in order to fully understand its effects.
Jeremy Stoppelman, CEO of Yelp, compared LIVES to the GTFS (General Transit Feed Specification) standard for public transportation information, now in use by 500 municipalities worldwide. GTFS started in 2005 when Bibiana McHugh, an IT director for Portland, Ore.’s TriMet transit agency, collaborated with Google to put TriMet’s transit data into a standardized format that was usable by the Google Maps Trip Planner, allowing citizens to get directions using public transit the same way they would get driving directions. Soon, other cities adopted the standard to provide the same service to their residents.
“When they turned the switch, other cities began to participate,” said Stoppelman. “So we said, why can’t we do that?”
As with GTFS and the public-private partnership between Portland, Ore. and Google, working with a national company such as Yelp means the San Francisco-originated LIVES standard can have immediate utility in other cities who choose to adopt it — accelerating the spread of the standard nationally. Both Chicago and Boston have plans to roll out the standard soon.
Collaboration between cities
Mayor Ed Lee stated, “One of our goals is to make sure what we do in San Francisco is made available to other cities who want to use it.”
Any municipality that conducts health inspection scoring and shares that data online can start using LIVES. We’re calling on local government innovators to make the commitment to share your city’s restaurant inspection scores, promote improved public health, and empower informed decision-making: pledge to implement the LIVES standard in your municipality at foodinspectiondata.us.
More detailed technical information about the LIVES data specification can be found here.
Questions? Comments? Hit us up @codeforamerica.