Cultivating an Open Data and Civic Hacking Community

Cultivating an Open Data and Civic Hacking Community

Azavea believes in being a “good citizen” of the communities with which we are engaged – be that the flourishing civic technology community, open data and open source, or even our own Philadelphia neighborhood. Good citizens are active and engaged ones, and in our case that means supporting and organizing civic and community events.

Back in February, in addition to my attendance at the Sunlight Foundation’s Bicoastal Datafest, we were proud to host the TechCamp: Education opening event in our office. Organized by the U.S. State Department Civil Society 2.0 initiative, TechCamp brought together public, private, and charter school educators and technologists for a weekend of discussions and brainstorming about how to use technology and start tech-related projects to provide a better educational experience for students. Robert and I presented on open data and geospatial topics at the unconference. I enjoyed putting together my presentation on various spatial analysis techniques for an imagined site suitability analysis for placing a new charter school, but I enjoyed the rapid-fire “Speed Geeking” process even more! Azavea developers Adam Hinz, Bennet Huber, and our most recent hire Chris Brown contributed to – a site and API for Philadelphia School District budget data – at TechCamp’s co-located Code for Philly “EdTech” hackathon, held on International Open Data Day.

In March, several Azavea developers (Justin Walgran, David Zwarg, Kenny Shepard, Rob Emanuele, and Adam Hinz) went to Boston for the 2013 OSGeo Code Sprint, a week-long event for developers to contribute to the OSGeo suite of open source geospatial tools, including PostGIS, one of our old favorites that’s used in many Azavea projects. On the train ride back, Justin started a new PostGIS data import utility that aims to be easy-peasy: “ezpg.” Justin’s plans to expand ezpg in the future as an Azavea R&D project, making it a more versatile PostGIS import tool and developing a full-fledged package manager to “push” and “pull” open geospatial data to a public repository.

The International Space Apps Challenge, which we organized locally, gathered over 50 software hackers and hardware tinkerers who contributed to some truly amazing final projects. The ISS Base Station and EarthKAM Explorer teams were nominated to go to the final round of international judging. As we found out just recently, ISS Base Station went on to become 1 of 5 global Space Apps Challenge winners (out of 134 total nominations), winning the “Best Use of Hardware” category. EarthKam Explorer also received an honorable mention in the “Best Use of Data” category. Congratulations Space Apps Philadelphians!

As if that wasn’t enough, this year’s TransparencyCamp in May was also an inspiring event. Robert, Sarah and I met folks from all over the civic technology and open government communities, and had some really thorough conversations that left me thinking about everything from data standards and what makes an informed voter, to open data in a Latin American context and planning high quality hackathons.

In several sessions at TCamp, we were introduced to the emerging conversation around open government data standards, like the Popolo Project and the Open Civic Data Divisions standard. With so many open data and open government efforts sprouting up in different areas, we think it’s important for all these tools and data to connect to each other. Data standards are a key part of that, so that conversation is something we’ll be following closely. Our over 6 years of experience harvesting data for our Cicero API gives us a fair bit of expertise to contribute to the conversation as well, and we’re hopeful someday Cicero could be an early adopter of new standards that emerge for elected officials and other election data worldwide.

Another innovative civic hackathon is coming up fast: The first-ever National Day of Civic Hacking on June 1st and 2nd! The event will be held in conjunction with Random Hacks of Kindness locally in Philadelphia, but events are taking place across the country. What’s Azavea’s role? While we’re not primary organizers this time, we’ve started talking or already committed to sponsoring our local Philadelphia event as well as events in Chicago and Western Massachusetts. We’re spreading our support for open data and civic hacking wide for this national-scale event – will you join us at your local event?