Cypher Philly: Civic Empowerment & Actionable Change Using Data-Driven Storytelling

We (Jason and Jess) are the co-founders of Untitled Folder, LLC, a software development and consulting agency based out of Philadelphia. We help early-stage startups on their journey from an Untitled Folder of ideas to building a scalable Minimal Viable Product (MVP).

In our spare time, we run a meetup called Philly GraphDB where we explore graph database technologies and share what we’ve learned with the community.

Meet Jason Cox ad Jess Mason who run a meetup called Philly GraphDB to explore graph technologies.

How It Started

While working with open city data in Neo4j, Jason and I discovered there was a lot of open public data freely available to anyone. Our goal then switched to how we could utilize this data to its fullest potential.

Having seen the impact software engineers, data scientists and journalists could have with data – like that of the Paradise and Panama Papers – we were inspired.

One afternoon, while preparing open data examples for our investigative journalism meetup, hosting Will Lyon from Neo4j, we conceived the foundations for the Cypher Philly initiative.

The initiative instantly gained support when we pitched our idea for the initiative at the end of the meetup. We also grew our team after bringing on our friend, Marieke Jackson, an expert data scientist who’s passionate about using civic data to build scrollytelling stories.

The Initiative

Cypher Philly is an open source project designed to empower citizens, journalists, data scientists, coders and creatives with the ability to harness open data for civic good.

Our goal is to simplify the process of telling data-driven stories using open public data to bring about actionable change, while also informing citizens and governments alike.

Cypher Philly uses open civic data to foster activism.


The Cypher Philly team has been growing and collaborating with various organizations, groups and communities to build and expand our reach.

To help us grow, we’ve gained local sponsorship from Linode to cloud host all of our related civic app projects. We also picked up Azavea as a sponsor to host our meetups in their offices, as well as lend support in building geospatial models of our data.

We also gained support from the Code for Philly and Code for America communities to expand our reach and expose the project to more people who want to contribute. Additionally, we gained support from the Philadelphia Design Activists community, the Committee of Seventy organization and various journalistic groups.

How It Works

The Cypher Philly team and participants have access to a collection of digital tools and methods we’ve built for finding, scraping, importing and storing data for civic-related projects using open public data. These tools and methods are freely available from our open source GitHub repository and may be used by any group or individual.

We meet frequently with different participants in smaller groups based on their skill sets and interest in participation. In our meetings, we discuss our goals and tasks for contributing to the projects we’re currently working on. All participants can see, in real time, what tasks are available for contribution.

Our project tasks and GitHub issues – available for anyone to assign themselves to an issue and work on that issue on their own time – live at the Untitled Folder Projects Board.

Collaboratively, we contribute to completing a data story that our city/state’s Cypher team deems most relevant in addressing the major civic issues we face.

Currently, Cypher Philly is working to address PA gerrymandering and how citizens are represented by district.

Currently Cypher Phill is working to address PA gerrymandering and how citizens are represented by district.

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