In a plan not all that crazy so it will probably work just fine, teams of civic hackers from Baltimore and Philadelphia will remotely join forces next weekend for the National Day of Civic Hacking, a nationwide initiative misleading in name only because it takes place on June 1 and June 2. (That’s two days, for those of you counting at home.)
As Philadelphia chief data officer Mark Headd, who was in involved in Baltimore hacking before his city government role, and gb.tc’s Sharon Paley put it:
Mentors and data experts will be on site in both locations and ready to assist teams that want to work on projects that benefit both cities. A live video feed between the two venues is also planned to allow collaboration and information sharing.
Participants in Baltimore are being asked to stand up instances of Philly-based civic applications like Councilmatic and Apps for Philly. Participants in Philadelphia are being asked to stand up instances of civic applications currently operational in Baltimore like 311 Daily Brief and Baltimore Vacants.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the rub.
- Hackathons are often criticized for being energy drink-powered events that are quickly forgotten once apps and websites have been demoed and people have been handed cold cans of Natty Boh. (Philadelphia, much love, but we’re not sure what you drink.)
- This time, groups of two to three people representing each city will join hackers in the opposite city. (So, people who have worked on Philadelphia’s Councilmatic app will, presumably, be available to help those at Baltimore’s Hack for Change event at AOL/Ad.com to assist civic hackers here in setting up Charm City’s version of Councilmatic.)
- By combining efforts, organizers in both cities hope that the civic-minded projects created in one weekend will be usable in each city, and tailored easily to fit each city’s respective open data resources.
“Where I think there is a lot of potential in the app-exchange format is that developers are essentially replicating existing applications with the help of the original developers,” said Paley by e-mail. “It should be much easier to get something completely built and functioning within a 48-hour period.”
And it seems, for Baltimore’s civic hackers, that this national event comes at an opportune time for open data in Maryland.
- Not only does the OpenBaltimore data portal exist, but it has also been updated in recent months with neighborhood statistical data from Vital Signs 10 and several new transit-related datasets, including an up-to-date towing dataset.
- This month, as Technically Baltimore reported, the state of Maryland released its first trove of publicly-accessible data on Data.Maryland.gov. Admittedly, the data right now is a bit of a mush, and will perhaps be more cumbersome (and more for show) in its infancy. But it’s a step in the right direction, and once civic hackers start using it next weekend, they’ll no doubt be able to indicate which data sets are woefully lacking.
- Crime-mapping startup SpotCrime, based in Baltimore, will be sharing statewide crime data at next weekend’s event.
- MarylandCode.org makes Maryland’s State Code much easier to read, and representatives from the OpenGov Foundation will be at AOL/Ad.com next weekend.
- Then there’s the team behind Baltimore’s Hack for Change event itself: gb.tc (forceful proponents of hackathons that, over time, produce something usable), the Mayor’s Office of Information Technology (a necessary piece as this city’s tech community charts Baltimore’s digital roadmap) and Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit — and champion of citizen-techies — Sunlight Foundation.
Ultimately, the cross-city nature of this particular weekend hackathon is an experiment, one that might go awry, or end up with lackluster results, as experiments are sometimes prone to do.
But Philly’s chief data officer is feeling optimistic (and, perhaps, just a tad biased).
“If any two cities can overcome these limitations, it’s Philly and Baltimore,” said Headd. “Both cities have mature open data and civic hacking communities, and there are already lots of connections between our two communities. Plus we’re both just badass.”
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