Thursday, November 19, 2015

Day-After-After Report -- Nov 17 Civic Hacking Meetup

tl:dr -- below are 9 points discussed on Nov 17; skip directly to numbered items for quick overview.

This post is a short summary of what happened at the NE Wisconsin civic hacking meetup on November 17, 2015, at Bazil’s Pub in Appleton, Wisconsin, USA.

For those who wondered, day-after-after is akin to antepenultimate.

‘Day-of’ summaries are coverage provided on the same day an event happens. Day-after reports are written on the first day after an event occurs. Day-after-after reports are done by undisciplined non-journalists who are overwhelmed by life’s many commitments (or who don’t plan well enough and don’t have sufficient willpower) and end up writing an event summary two days after the event ended.

I’d love to see a day-of report for every participant-driven events I’m involved with, such as civic hackathons and BarCamps. But that requires a person dedicated to storytelling, someone who has the willpower and insight to keep themselves from becoming fully engaged and immersed in the event. Someone who observes the big picture of what’s happening instead of becoming fully engaged in the conversation about how a Facebook-connected civic hack might work, or the discussion at a BarCamp session about gamification of corporate business processes. I enjoy those conversations and discussions too much to be an effective day-of storyteller.

As a result, one of my goals for BarCamp Green Bay (BCGB) 2016 is to invite (which is sometimes spelled r-e-c-r-u-i-t) storytellers to that event. I’d like to have one of the Top Ten Themes of BCGB 2016 be storytelling, which will include many related topics such as videography, photography, documentaries, and indie filmmaking. With a bit of luck and planning, some of the storyteller-participants, in addition to participating in BCGB sessions, will also do day-of reporting for the event.

But I digress…

Here is my November 19 day-after-after list of what happened at the November 17 meetup of NE Wisconsin civic hackers.

  1. Incomplete Success. We didn’t successfully identify an agreed-upon civic hack topic for the Recycle Mafia (Mike, Mike, Chris, Ross, et al.) to tackle as a successor to the multiple hacks related to the AppletonAPI which Mike Putnam created and unveiled earlier in 2015. But we did have interesting conversations about possible topics for a successor hack.
  2. Facebook Leverage. It was felt there is high potential for a civic hack that somehow leverages Facebook (FB), primarily because of how many people are reported to use FB and how enthusiastically some people use it. Unfortunately, the Garbage Kings Gang doesn’t currently have a Facebook ninja, so we probably need to recruit someone who is both a prolific FBer and interested in civic hacking. Research will also be done to locate existing civic hacks that leverage FB.
  3. Hack Ecosystem. A desired aspect of the civic hack successor is that the successor have clear potential for the same sort of complementary hack ecosystem as the CityAPI-RecycleWeek hack family. Mike Putnam wrote the AppletonAPI hack, which led to the “Is it recycling week?” (IIRW) Android app, GreenvilleWI API, Civic Hack API Locator, Pebble Watch IIRW app, IIRW web app, Outagamie County API and work on other related hacks. It would be nice if another topic or theme can be identified that will spawn numerous complementary civic hacks.
  4. FB RecycleHacks. Ignoring all common sense and established grammar rules of the last millenium, and using FB as a verb, it was discussed that we should probably FB the NE Wisconsin ecosystem of recycle and cityAPI hacks. In upcoming weeks, we’ll explore how FB can be used to make more NE Wisconsin residents aware of these civic hacks and to get more people using the hacks, e.g. the IIRW Android app.
  5. Data Emancipation. Helping cities and other government units get their public data online in a structured, accessible format (like JSON/XML/CSV, not PDFs, HTML needing to be scraped, or proprietary document formats) was another discussion topic. Cities have limited budgets, project priorities and, sometimes, limited experience with data formats and retrieval methods like setting up a REST API or enabling JSON or XML output formats on a particular database platform. One way to enable development of more NE Wisconsin civic hacks might be for civic hackers to offer their assistance in emancipating public data which is not civic hacker-friendly. Here are definition links for the acronyms mentioned:
    1. * JSON - Javascript Object Notation - a common/preferred data format in mainstream use. A very large ecosystem of open source software and people exists that can leverage this data format.
    2. * XML - Extensible Markup Language - a common but less desirable data format (JSON was created as a reaction to the complexity/verbosity of XML) Still serviceable, smaller ecosystem, prevalent in 'enterprise' environments.
    3. * CSV - Comma Separate Values - a simple data format that, failing the availability of the previous two options, can serve as an easy way to deliver public data online. Database platforms, and spreadsheet programs can produce CSV files. Very low barrier to success.
    4. * REST API - Representational State Transfer Application Programming Interface - a really confusingly named way of saying "pass around data over the web" only instead of being made up of web pages readable by humans, made up of data formats that software can use.
  6. Resident Requests. One way to decide what civic hacks to work on is to figure out what resident requests, complaints or questions (RCQs) are most common in NE Wisconsin. Another way to say this is, “What city-related information would be most helpful to or appreciated by residents if a civic hack was built to make that info easier to find or easier to understand?” The challenge with this concept is that we civic hackers have no idea how to discover what those most common RCQs are. If each NE Wisconsin city and county had a comprehensive open311 system and a record of the open311 top 3 RCQs for the past 3 years. Although maybe that's too many 3s... What we'll probably need to do to identify common RCQs is talk to a lot of different NE Wisconsin city employees to learn what data is available for this topic.
  7. NextGen API-Locator. Mike Rosack’s Civic API Locator appears to have huge potential, and we haven’t even started to scratch the surface of that potential. Mark Boyd’s City-API-Discoverability GitHub repository discusses the issue of making it easier to find city APIs. We’ll try to connect with Mark, the US Census Bureau, coders in Rio Grand Valley, and others interested in this issue, like Code for America (CfA), to figure out where Mike’s Civic API Locator fits in the scheme of global civic hacking and how to best improve it, let more people know about and get more people using it.
  8. Civic Hackathon. It appears the next CfA national CodeAcross event will be on March 5, 2016. Click here for a bit of info on CodeAcross 2015. We’ll facilitate discussions in the next couple weeks about this 2016 date and event, but there’s a strong possibility we’ll target that date for a NE Wisconsin civic hackathon of the same general flavor as the NE Wisconsin June 6, 2015 civic hackathon. Location, agenda, partners and sponsors for a March 2016 NE Wisconsin CodeAcross hackathon to be determined...
  9. EdCamp Fox Valley. There was a short discussion at Bazil's about EdCamp Green Bay 2015, a K12 education unconference which happened on the same day as BarCamp Green Bay 2015, a technology unconference. It’s a small world after all… In a follow-up to the EdCamp Green
    Bay discussion on November 17, Mike Putnam discovered EdCamp Fox Valley and sent me a link to the event. Civic hackers, BarCampers, TIME community members (Tech, Innovators, Makers, Entrepreneurs) and other interested potential EdCampers are welcome to register for the February 6, 2016, EdCamp Fox Valley. The lead organizer for EdCamp Green Bay told me, “I would say without a shadow of a doubt that any edcamp organizer would love to have community members and parents present. Everyone should have a voice in public education, and it is also a cool opportunity to learn both ways - you can learn about what is happening in our schools (especially relative to the fields you contribute to) and we can learn from you about the mythical "real world" we like to talk about but haven't really been a part of!” Watch for a future post about EdCamp Fox Valley on the myDigitechnician blog.

Note to participants of November 17 civic hacker meetup: If I left out any discussion topics or Next Steps from this week’s meetup, please send me an email with your recollection of that, and I’ll update this post with that info.

If questions or a desire to get involved with any of the above, contact Bob Waldron -- bwaldron (at) gmail [dott] com.


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