Open Data Day 2013 Hackathon Recap

Last weekend in perhaps as many as 100 cities around the world open data enthusiasts held hackathons. Here in DC we too were celebrating February 23 as International Open Data Day. And it was, dare I say, a great success.

Over 150 developers, data scientists, social entrepreneurs, government employees, and other open data enthusiasts participated in our event, first at a kickoff Friday night at Google’s DC headquarters and then at the Saturday session at The World Bank. Participants worked on local DC issues, global open source mapping, world poverty, and open government. Here are some quick links:

Videos: One | Two — Photos: One | Two

Eric’s Recap | Sam’s Recap | Tumblr | Storified Tweets

Press coverage is listed at the end.

Our approach to the hackathon was a little different than many others. Our goals were to strengthen the open data community, to foster connections between people and between projects, and to emphasize problem statements over prototypes and solutions. There was no beer or pizza at our hackathon, no competitions, and no pressure to produce outputs. Participants came motivated and stayed focused without needing to be treated like brogrammers. This created a positive, welcoming, and highly productive environment.

In the morning Eric Mill (Sunlight Foundation/@konklone) ran a several-hours-long tutorial on open data for about 40 participants. Some were new to coding. Others were project managers (inside and outside of government) who wanted to learn more about what open data is all about from the ground up. Eric walked the participants through exploring APIs through the web browser and using command-line tools to process CSV files — a very concrete way to explain the benefits of adding structure to data.

Several projects focused on local DC issues: mapping zoning restrictions (more), graphing public and charter school enrollment and (other education data), mapping trees by species, and building a database of social service providers.

A large team of map hackers worked on mapping Kathmandu in Open Street Map to aid disaster response, and with their collaborators around the world mapped over 7,000 building footprints.

Global poverty and international development was the focus of several other projects, from building APIs for international development project performance data to measuring poverty in real time using Twitter.

The open government projects worked on adding semantic information to legislative documents, comparing legislative documents for similarity, extracting legal citations, cataloging our government representatives at the local level, and building “devops” tools for rapid deployment of VMs that might be useful in government or for open data researchers.

And there were other projects that don’t fit into any of those categories, like building Python tools for creating education curricula,

The event was organized by me (Josh Tauberer/GovTrack/@JoshData), Eric Mill (Sunlight Foundation/@konklone), Katherine Townsend (USAID/@DiploKat), Dmitry Kachaev (Presidential Innovation Fellow/Millennium Challenge Corporation/@kachok), Sam Lee (The World Bank/@OpenNotion), and Julia Bezgacheva (@ulkins/The World Bank).

Thanks to The World Bank especially, and to Google, the participants that helped out with registration in the morning, and to everyone who came!

This was DC’s second open data day. Our first was on Dec. 3, 2011 and was co-hosted by POPVOX (Josh Tauberer) and Wikimedia DC (Katie Filbert). See what we did on the post-event recap at Participants then worked on improving access to U.S. law, scanning federal spending for anomalies following Benford’s Law, understanding farm subsidy grants, building local transit apps, and keeping Congress accountable. Only about half of the participants were programmers, buteveryone found a way to be involved.

It was also DC’s second international development data day. The last one was held on December 9, 2012 in the lead-up to the Development DataJam hosted by White House’s Office of Science & Technology. Those events primarily served as ideation jams to bring together issue area experts and data experts to develop new ideas and partner for new solutions. Experts were sought out to inform the discussions, but anyone with an interest in open data in development were welcomed and participated.

Press coverage

DCist: Hack D.C.: Hackers Put Open Data to Use to Help Improve Local Government

The Atlantic Cities: Is There a Link Between Walkability and Local School Performance?

Greater Greater Washington: How school tiers match up with Walk Score

Greater Greater Education: Community of civic hackers for education takes shape

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