Saturday, April 25, 2015

Civic Hacking In The News: April 25, 2015

Last Saturday on this blog my post highlighted a few online news articles related to civic hacking. I'll probably do that every Saturday because it gives you a break from reading my writing. It also prompts me to use Google News to find out what's happening in the world of civic hacks. Reading those news articles helps me learn about interesting people, tools, activities and organizations involved in open government data and open government tech.

Today's articles start out with a new report from the Pew Research Center called "Americans’ Views on Open Government Data." The full Pew report can be found here, but this article gives a few highlights of Americans' views related to open government data, including these statistics:
"Few Americans think governments are very effective in sharing data they collect with the public:
  • Just 5% say the federal government does this very effectively...
  • 5% say state governments share data very effectively...
  • 7% say local governments share data very effectively...
82% of adults say they are comfortable with government sharing data online about the health and safety records of restaurants. 
One of the issues for proponents of open government and open data is whether people are aware that government data undergird key businesses. Perhaps the most prominent example is that government weather-related data are the foundation of large numbers of weather-forecasting companies and analysts...The Pew Research survey asked the 68% of the sample who have smartphones several questions about their use of government-created data material:
  • 84% have used weather apps to find out the forecast nearby.
  • 81% have used map apps to navigate through a city or neighborhood.
  • 66% have used an app to find out about nearby stores, bars or restaurants.
Despite widespread use of commercial applications that rely on government data, just 9% (among all Americans) say that the data government shares with the public helps a lot with the private sector’s creation of new products and services..."
A article about open government data in Philadelphia, "Welcome to the Open Data Movement’s Turbulent Teenage Years," shows one possible reason that only 7% of the people in the Pew survey felt local governments share data very effectively. Open government data sounds like a good and reasonable thing when discussed in the abstract sense, or when you're talking about somebody else's data. But even if the data is public and should be available to all citizens, all kinds of reasons can be found to not change the status quo, i.e. not-open government data. This Philadelphia story should be mandatory reading for all cities that consider launching an open data initiative.
"Hired by Mayor Michael Nutter in August 2012 to be Philadelphia’s first chief data officer, Headd was supposed to deliver on the Mayor’s ambitious promise to transform the city’s notoriously opaque ways of doing business. On paper, Philadelphia was ready for the open data revolution...the Mayor had signed an Executive Order that created Philadelphia’s first-ever Open Data Policy and mandated releases of city-held data...Now it would fall to him to convince city officials to unlock the countless other public records that remained veiled and make the data open: publicly available, easily accessible and readily downloadable to any Philly resident — and anyone else who had heard of the Internet. 
The city had reached what Headd calls “that messy, uncomfortable, adolescent phase of open data.” Now it was time to go beyond creating fun apps and make one with the hard stuff: public employee salary data, city government expenditures and property records that, while available online, aren’t offered to the public in a user-friendly form...The CDO began meeting with department heads and requesting access to data sets that had never before seen daylight. He explained his belief that no one should have to file a right-to-know request to discover salaries of city employees or embark on a cumbersome online search to find if a house with code violations also has a property tax balance...“Everybody’s in favor of open data when it’s easy, when it’s quick,” says Headd... 
He recalls meeting with people from the city’s Department of Finance to explain in careful detail how to release sensitive expenditure data and noticing midway through the meeting that no one was taking notes. “I realized they don’t expect me to be here anymore. Or they don’t expect me to have the ability to tell them what to do anymore,” says Headd...After one year and seven months, in April 2014, Headd stepped down as Philadelphia’s chief data officer. 
The tension between Headd and his colleagues in City Hall was in many ways par for the course...There is always resistance to change, and public officials’ hesitation to release certain data is to be expected..."
This article, "Palo Alto Writes Playbook (Literally) for Hosting an Apps Challenge," talks about a civic hack activity that Appleton or another northeast Wisconsin community like Green Bay, De Pere, Oshkosh, Fond du Lac and many others might consider after we've built an active civic hacking community.
"Done right, an apps challenge can bring to life community ideas to solve city problems through civic engagement apps — something the city of Palo Alto, Calif., did...Reichental and Palo Alto have learned a thing or two from hosting the city’s first Apps Challenge — a multi-month endeavor culminating in a live broadcast and innovative and functional apps — and have funneled this knowledge into an Apps Challenge Playbook, downloadable and free to the public. The recently released playbook is a resource for anyone wanting to repeat Palo Alto’s success by providing a step-by-step guide to planning and running an apps challenge. 
The Apps Challenge followed several other citywide civic innovation events and open data initiatives, including an open data portal... 
Nearly 90 teams entered the Apps Challenge, all with thoughtful and interesting ideas, he said. Then from January through May, the city engaged in six events to attract and nurture talent and ideas, find the best apps, and promote the apps and the challenge, which the city estimates involved more than 5,000 community members."
Although the last article for today, "25 cities partner for health care innovation," isn't about an open source civic hack, it does talk about using a 21st century toolbox to address common problems in public health, community health, health services and healthcare technology.
"The 2015 Multi-City Innovation Campaign focuses on health and human services challenges where technology interventions intersect, and can directly impact, city or county government services and goals. Twenty-four cities, the state of Rhode Island, Nashville-based Jumpstart Foundry, Code for America and the National League of Cities are supporting the challenge along with Esri and Socrata, which are providing open datasets. The best ideas could receive $5,000 from cities that are interested and believe prototypes meet their needs.  Prototypes have the possibility of receiving a total of $120,000 if each participating city decides to award the $5,000 prize.  Additionally, proposals that are awarded prize money will also be considered for an open slot in JumpStart Foundry’s 2015 class, and up to $100,000 of seed capital investment."
The civic hacking community in northeast Wisconsin isn't strong enough yet to justify a well-funded event like the Multi-City Innovation Campaign. But we can still learn from events like this and from the civic tech that hackers in those cities create.


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