OpenOakland 1.5: A year in review

2013 was a great year for the growing movement to open up government and build towards a future where our local city is truly by the people, for the people, and of the people in the 21st century. However we still have much to do and much to learn.

OpenOakland was created to fulfill two main goals: 1) provide a backbone level of support for civic innovation in Oakland, and 2) support our local government in being more open, more agile, and more engaged. Both Eddie Tejeda (my Co-captain) and I believe that the approach taken by Code for America is perhaps the strongest, smartest way to achieve truly open government in the USA and we’re proud to be part of a national movement to transform how government works and is how we as citizens interact with government. OpenOakland was our idea to make that vision a reality and so far hundreds of people across Oakland have been inspired to be part of that journey too.

While many of our members are technically gifted, we are not all about the technology- the advantage that technologists offer is the ability to know what is possible. Take this year’s acclaimed app built by Adam Stiles and Shawn McDougal with support from the city’s Budget Advisory Committee: This app demonstrates so much of what we’re building. Conceived at a hackathon, we helped incubate and support the completion of this game changing app. It required the City of Oakland to release the raw budget in real data format for the first time ever — a serious change in attitude from a city hall frequently seen as closed and uncooperative. In releasing this data, the city enabled the development of a powerful application that would never have been conceived of or built in city hall. Our team has learned a lot through the launch of this app and has been largely responsible for the increased focus on the city’s budgeting process and the push for increased transparency and engagement in future budget preparation. We’ve helped to change city policy, empower people to ask informed questions and enriched the discussion with reliable facts.

This is what we’re about — technology that changes behaviors and to creates new possibilities.

In June we participated in a national event called the National Day of Civic Hacking, co-sponsored by the White House. We held an event called ReWrite Oakland — while a geeky play on words, we wanted to build this new web app for our city and we invited the people to participate in building it. Seventy people joined us at the HUB Oakland to create a new resource: was the result. What we did was more than just build a new web app in collaboration with the City — we showed that how the city acquires and considers technology can be different, better, smarter. An open source app and a bunch of residents time created a website far more accessible to regular people than the City’s current site. We will be holding ReWrite evenings across the city in 2014, giving more Oaklanders the chance to help build something together.

We’ve also been hard at work on building an app that breaks down the old barriers between city council and the public. Led by Miguel Vargas, this app allows regular people to easily find information about discussions and topics hitting council and other meetings in the city. It will allow people for the first time to stay on top of matters that relate to them, without the painful process of digging through dozens of lengthy PDF documents. Our hope is that this makes our council more open and with solid outreach on our part, change the way people choose to be passive consumers or engaged citizens.

With our community we’ve also built some simple apps, based on other great open source projects in other cities, that help residents find services and connect to their local networks:

Late this year we also participated in the first-ever crowd sourced legislation in the City of Oakland. Lauded by the Sunlight Foundation as a promising practice for other cities to follow, we joined dozens of people from across the city and the country to help form the strongest possible new language for the City’s Open Data Resolution, which passed the City Council with no dissension.

We think this work matters to the entire city and we’ll be making a lot of effort to connect with organizations and people across this great city in 2014. While our focus has been on building relationships with and changing how things are done inside City Hall, we almost forgot that “by the people” is bigger than just those who take the time to join us in city hall for our hack nights and other events. When we formed, we established values of engagement with our City and diversity in our membership and leaders. The coming year presents us with the chance to engage more widely and to share this vision with those who want to participate.

Questions? Comments? Hit us up @codeforamerica.

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