What are the key themes and take-aways from City Camp?
January 24, 2010 at 4:43 pm #89976
Curious to learn about the “sticky” thoughts or ideas that you heard during the weekend:What words or ideas came up again and again?What are the actions you feel inspired to take now?Eager to learn your impressions…
January 24, 2010 at 5:06 pm #90012
January 24, 2010 at 7:32 pm #90010
Our communities are very lucky that there are so many innovative and incredibly smart people who are so dedicated to either working for government or with government to make it better.
As for the ideas discussed, from the sessions I attended people are looking for how to open data, convince the organization to embrace all of this, what the limitations or opportunities are for developing and using open source apps, and then learning about all the sites and existing apps out there that can help us.
It has been an incredible and awesome experience!!
January 24, 2010 at 7:43 pm #90008
The word I kept seeing on Twitter (and that’s echoed above) is data.
My sense is that we have to move from data to story.
How do we transform “data” from a word that connotes Excel spreadsheets and numbers to a word that equates to meaningful, power-packed snapshots and expressions of citizen needs?
January 25, 2010 at 1:10 am #90006
What was interesting is that some cities have the opinion that govt should only provide raw data. They don’t think we should present or interpret it. That would make for a good discussion.
January 25, 2010 at 1:18 am #90004
Hi guys. I would have liked to attend this weekend’s CityCamp. But from what I followed on Twitter and as Andrew sums up in his reply, I tend to agree. However, what are citizen needs? Is it about data? Really? Perhaps “data” is an insider’s perspective and citizen needs still need to be defined. Or there’s the risk of spending energy developing an open government strategy around an issue that the public does not embrace or identify.
January 25, 2010 at 3:06 am #90002
I also wish I had been at the conference. I think data has to be given a context to be meaningful to anyone, let alone anyone in the general public. Data has to be linked to something, not just numbers.
For me data has to tell a story of some kind. It also can be qualitative or quantitative and is often linked to evaluation. Evaluation of what? For who and for what purpose.
When asked to “evaluate” a program, it is often seen as ‘counting’, we had these many people who visited our program, how many times for what. That does not tell us what happened and is not necessarily attached to the real story.
If data isn’t related it can be very difficult to understand and become another barrier to public participation.
This is a subject I am very interested in discussing…I’m starting a group on evaluation.
January 25, 2010 at 3:20 am #90000
We’re onto something here. Open datasets alone are not the key.
As a grant writer, I always used data to tell a story. How many people have HIV/AIDS? Where do they live? Where are the clinics located and are they co-located with the target population?
It was never about numbers. It was about articulating need…why THIS city or this school district or this non-profit needs the money…
The same is true for cities opening datasets. Can developers transform these datasets for better visualization and planning – enabling the key stakeholders in the community to see and understand the situation and make better decisions?
If not, what’s the point of open government? Transparency alone is not enough…
January 25, 2010 at 3:15 pm #89998
I feel our city’s first responsibility is to make the data available. We can’t compete on the web. Web development is not a culture that local government is comfortable with. The web is too agile and fast paced for local governments to concentrate on development. What are we going to do? Continue to listen to some salesperson from one of the various enterprise corporations tell us that using their proprietary web development tool is the best solution? So we spend thousands of dollars because they know whats right. Meanwhile, some 24 year old kids are cranking out websites in weeks using open source web frameworks and databases.
I love to write web applications. I’m just tired of dealing with the limitations I’m given. Both in hardware and software.
I’m more interested now in making data sets available. Lets get the data out there. Let the kids do some amazing stuff with it.
January 25, 2010 at 3:17 pm #89996
I think there are probably a few stages with opening data.
-Open up current data better
-Find more data sets
-Improve quality of data
-Improve consistency of updates of data
-Provide some user interfaces to data (some gov, some non-profit, some for-profit)
January 25, 2010 at 4:08 pm #89994
Thanks for starting this thread Andy! I definitely have some thoughts, but also have some catching up to do with the day job & such. :^) More later…
January 25, 2010 at 6:00 pm #89992
One thing I saw at times this weekend was an almost unwillingness by some people outside government to accept that from govt. perspective, it is not necessarily free or “easy” to “open” data. We aren’t really talking about open data anyway in a lot of cases. Most of this data is available to the public already, just maybe not in the “ideal” form (ie, its in pdf form, or it costs money, or you have to request it by email or in person). What I noticed people talking about most was essentially real time updates/access easily accessible for free online.
For those outside govt that want these data streams, apis, etc and think its the govt’s responsibility to make it available, maybe one area to look at instead of just developing applications that make use of the data- help create applications that make it easy for govt to put the data out there. Start researching the software/hardware/database setups that various departments of a govt organization use. Find out what features the govt employees need/want in order to do their job properly. Then collectively create open-source free software stacks that handle the govt needs as well as automatically provides the data exports/streams/api/etc that the gov2.0 community seeks.
January 25, 2010 at 6:59 pm #89990
You are so right on with your comment. What I keep thinking is it would help so much is to go through it in these steps which are really just a more detailed listing of the steps suggested by Steve:
1. I don’t think many people, even some in govt, realize just how much data there is. It is almost overwhelming just in my department. So we really need to have a list somewhere of what data a typical city generates, what format it is typically collected in, and what format it needs to be in to be useful.
2. Once a city has a list of guidance like that which shows where we begin and where we need to go, we can start prioritizing. As you point out, Josh, no one has really focused on developing tools that allow us to go from collection/creation to publication very easily. So right now for this step we have to look at time to spend on getting this data to the format it needs to be. This can be anywhere from a day to 4 years depending on the data. (For example I had 10+ years of VCR tapes of sewer videos with paper reports – it took us about 4 months to log the videos, get them into MPEG format and the reports into pdf. That is one set of readily available raw data – two people, 4 months to get it to where we could find it and share it.)
3. Next we have to realize this data is needed for three primary reasons: first, for us to do our job, second, for other departments within our agency to do their job and third, for the public. So it would be helpful to target use groups and uses for each data set (the question of data uses kept coming up too this weekend).
4. This is a critical step that builds on the first three – prioritize the publishing of each data set based on your own agencys’ ranking of time to transform data, proposed use for the data, and need by specific use groups. For example some city might decide to put out data first that only takes a few days to transform, is needed by a specific work group in that city, and will result in significant increase in economic development in the city.
5. Begin working down your prioritized list and hope that developers are also looking at these lists. Hopefully they will see where certain data sets take years to get from raw data to published data and then create a tool that streamlines the process like you suggested.
I think most of us in government want to open the data, but like you said, it isn’t as easy as just walking over to it and throwing it up on a website. The problem is it is overwhelming and takes significant time, and there is no plan or guidance for how to do it and why. This process also helps establish some sense of value which increases incentive to do it. And we totally need developers help to make it so much easier.
January 28, 2010 at 4:16 pm #89988
TO THE MODERATORS: It would be helpful, in the future as you develop better coding here, to include a byline underneath the “reply by” line that explains who the person is who is replying, whether title and agency or level of government or whatnot. For instance, how many people replying here are elected or appointed local government leaders? That would help me so I can sense who truly understands what is going on. Thanks.
January 28, 2010 at 5:07 pm #89986
Hey Ari – That would be pretty sweet, eh? We’ll add it to the (growing) list!
In the short term, what I do is right click on a person’s photo and open up their profile in a new tab or window.
Also, if you want to find other city officials, you can use our Advanced Search. As an example, here’s what I found:
On “City” – http://bit.ly/7O6XQN
On “Town” – http://bit.ly/8MYQ7h
January 28, 2010 at 5:19 pm #89984
Josh and Pam — I think you are right on. We’ve been meeting in New Orleans about strategic steps that the new mayor can take toward open gov. Compelling use cases that describe tasks that regular folks need to accomplish using city data are the place to start — esp when the result makes the city look good and meets pressing needs of the people.
In New Orleans, we’ve had problems with surprise demolitions, and demolitions also play a role in blight-reduction, so there are some nice use cases for building demolition permit data across a range of uses and tasks…
Sample use cases for Building Demolition Permit Data:
1. Potential homebuyers, their agents, mortgage brokers, contractors and title companies search the demolition list by address to see if it is listed before a sale is made, or renovation begins.
2. Neighborhood Associations post on their web site notices of recently filed demolition permits within the bounds of their neighborhood. Weekly e-newsletters with property addresses are sent to association members. In turn, neighbors are likely to recognize a house slated for demolition and take action to personally notify the owner, or discuss concerns with the neighborhood association and the city.
3. Researchers download all demolition permits from Katrina to current-day to use in creating indicators of blight (by subtracting demolished homes from the list of undeliverable addresses provided by USPS through HUD) aggregated by the city’s 73 neighborhood statistical areas. Policymakers and housing experts will use the results of this research to identify appropriate housing policies for tackling blight across neighborhoods.
January 30, 2010 at 2:29 pm #89982
Pam, This looks like a workable 5-step plan. OpenMuni wiki has a place to catalog data types: http://wiki.openmuni.org/ While you are quite right about the lack of collection-to-publishing tools, the issue may be interoperability – or lack thereof – among tools and processes. Clearly, the best example of collect-to-publish is found in 311. “SeeClickFix” could not be a more appropriate name.
January 30, 2010 at 3:23 pm #89980
My biggest takeaways:
It’s essential to get a good mix of perspective. We had civil servants, vendors, journalists, non-profits, and citizens. It would not have been as successful if it was gov-to-gov, vendor-to-vendor, or even gov-to-vendor.
It’s essential that the conversation not revolve entirely around tech and data. In 2010 we can assume that technology and data are involved. We’re just scratching the surface on process. And the processes involved are not just about methods and means for collecting-publishing-visualizing data. Providing greater opportunities to get citizens’ voices heard and to increase their engagement in civic duty is important.
There is a new and important role for journalism: tell the stories behind the tech and the data. However, journalists may not have the education and knowledge to do this well. Interpreting stats is hard. I am excited to see Global Integrity stepping up to start a “help desk” specifically to work this problem. I think there is a new “extreme programming” model that papers could adopt; or perhaps to put it in terms papers already understand: pair your journalists up with data-viz-stats people like you pair them up with photographers.
People want what City Camp provided. We are going to learn from it, refine it, and keep it going.
Don’t wait for me or Jen to keep City Camp going. Anyone can do this anywhere at anytime. Copy what works. Adapt for your local perspective. Just do it.
February 3, 2010 at 1:45 pm #89978
Hi Folks – Here’s a must read article from Nat Torkington over on O’Reilly Radar entitled, “Rethinking Open Data.” He directly touches on themes from our conversation below…such as:
“There’s value locked up in government data, but you only realise that value when the datasets are used. Once you finish the catalogue, you have to market it so that people know it exists. Not just random Internet developers, but everyone who can unlock that value.”
“Governments would rather identify the high-value datasets, where great public policy comment, intra-government optimisation, citizen information, or commercial value can be unlocked. Even if you don’t buy into the cost argument, there’s definitely an order problem: which datasets should we open first? It should be the ones that will give society the greatest benefit soonest.”
After you’ve read it, would love to get your thoughts here.
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