Peer Network Spotlight: Brett Lord-Castillo, St. Louis County

brettlordcastillo-circleBrett Lord-Castillo (@blordcastillo) is the GIS Programmer for St. Louis County Emergency Management, part of the St. Louis County Police in Missouri — and a passionate mapmaker. He also helps organize a local civic hacking meetup group, Open Data STL, and recently led St. Louis’ first-ever CodeAcross event, bringing together community advocates, representatives of the startup community, and local government to work towards making open data the norm in their city and county. Here’s what he has to say about what’s in store for civic innovation in the St. Louis metropolitan region:

How did you come to work in public service and what is your current role?

I stumbled onto geography in college and fell in love with this amazing field. While geography now opens up opportunities in many industries, its role in geographic information systems has created a tight link to local government. I actually did not find this opportunity, it found me. After I graduated from college in Oregon, one of my now co-workers convinced me to take a chance on Missouri, and six years later I am still the GIS programmer for St Louis County Emergency Management. I get to code, do outreach, respond to disasters, and, the most important part, make maps!

In the last year, we’ve seen a growing civic hacking community and momentum around open data in the St. Louis region. What are the upcoming civic innovation priorities for the St Louis metropolitan area? What challenges do you face?

Jack Dorsey’s [St. Louis native and co-founder of Twitter and Square] “Let’s Talk” event in 2013 had a lasting effect on this region. I think we will see a focus on how government can use technology to make it easier to do business in St Louis. I think we will see improvements in business permitting, as well as wider availability of information critical to locating and running your business in the St. Louis metropolitan area. Public safety is another priority that always stirs lots of interest here. However, opening government will continue to remain a challenge for this region. Our public data are still frequently in inaccessible formats, and we need to work on the policies and infrastructure to open these up.

You just organized a CodeAcross event in St. Louis. What are the outcomes you’re most excited about from that event? What do you hope the growing civic hacker community in St Louis will accomplish?

In addition to our in-person CodeAcross event, we also did a Hangout on Air. We were hoping that an online event on a Friday afternoon would create an easy avenue for people in government and at NGOs to participate, even if it was just streaming the Hangout in the background as they work. And it worked. Local non-profits, in particular, reached out to us via Twitter to provide feedback, ask for our help in improving their transparency, and particularly to ask what they can do to help us.

Right now, we are tackling the issues of beginning to open up our government. With our local talent pipelines to Missouri S&T and Washington University, I expect to see our civic hacker community step forward in innovation and become a leader in producing new civic applications.

What’s your favorite part of your job?

While I enjoy many aspects of my job, including the opportunity I now have to get involved in civic hacking, I am still a geographer and my favorite part will always be the sheer joy of making a map.

Questions? Comments? Hit us up @codeforamerica.

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