In the last decade, there has been an unprecedented movement within governments to free up non-classified information.
In 2009, President Obama issued the Open Data Directive, which required federal agencies to make their data more available to the public. The State of Illinois created a website, https://data.illinois.gov, so state residents could access its statistical info.
The city of Oakland partnered with Code for America, a Peace-Corps-like group of civic-minded technologists, to make municipal data more accessible to its city dwellers. But information is only good if it is used.
Feb. 23 is International Open Data Day - when people from around the world will gather together “to write applications, liberate data, create visualizations and publish analyses using open public data,” according to opendataday.org.
In Oakland, community group OpenOakland, will host its own Open Data Day celebration. The event, dubbed a “hackathon,” will be held at the 81st Avenue Branch of the public library. All Oakland residents are encouraged to attend - with designers, coders, statisticians and city staff members being especially welcome.
The event is meant to be a community discussion/coding session that ultimately leads to the development of new transparent municipal software.
The Feb. 23 event won’t be unfamiliar territory for OpenOakland. Though the city offers a fellowship through Code for America, where technologists work directly with staff to create software using city data, OpenOakland is a community group of technologist, sponsored by Code for America, who informally work with the city on open data technology projects.
Every Tuesday, OpenOakland meets at City Hall and “offers a permanent place (for people) to gather and work on open data related projects, either visualizations, apps, research and more,” Steve Spiker, one of the group’s co-founders, said.
Though “in one aspect there is no difference,” between the hackathon and Open Oakland meet-ups, Spiker said, the group’s regular meetings tend to focus on long-term group projects, while Open Data Day will be more of a community brainstorming session.
Members of OpenOakland are already hard at work producing applications. Among the projects the group is working on: a Wikipedia-esque site dedicated to Oakland and an app that keeps track of Oakland’s blighted buildings.
“I think the focus of a lot of people in OpenOakland, is not to just produce artifacts … but to try and engage the community to increase the circulation of ideas,” Open Oakland member, Robert Chiniquy, said of the group’s philosophy. Chiniquy said he hopes that Open Data Day will give the Oakland community more of a chance to participate in the group’s activities.
Though the city is not officially affiliated with OpenOakland, it does support the group. Many city staff members attend regular OpenOakland events and the city provides data to the group. The city also is sponsoring Open Data Day because “By participating in events like the upcoming hackathon, the city gains a critical perspective on the needs of our community, and also on the capacity of the community to help address these needs,” said Nicole Neditch, the city’s online engagement manager.
To find out more about Oakland’s Open Data Day, visit openoakland.org or opendatadayoakland.eventbrite.com.