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Code for Philly / Hackathons / Municipal government

The Board of Ethics ‘cleaned up’ its data for this weekend’s DemHack hackathon

A nice example of a city agency working with the civic hacking community.

Swag at DemHack2015. (Photo by Chris Kendig Photography)

Open data is no good if no one understands it.
That’s what the city’s Board of Ethics learned after releasing campaign finance data for last year’s politics-oriented DemHack hackathon. Barely anyone used it because it was difficult to understand (see a list of the DemHack projects from last year here). Some campaign finance reports appeared to be entered twice or three times, a quirk due to campaign finance reporting rules. Not to mention that campaign contribution limits and reporting deadlines can change year to year.
Shane Creamer, executive director of the Board of Ethics, feels hackers’ pain: “I felt the same way when I first got into this 10 years ago,” he said.
So, acting on feedback from Chief Data Officer Tim Wisniewski and former city data scientist Stacey Mosley, the Board of Ethics and OIT built a data dictionary for hackers at this year’s DemHack. They hope it provides more context to their data and that it’ll encourage technologists to use it at the hackathon, held this weekend.
“We’re excited about the possibilities,” Creamer told us.
We think it speaks to both OIT and the civic hacking community’s clout that a city agency would make improvements to its data based on feedback from a hackathon. It shows that the agency isn’t just releasing data for open data’s sake and actually cares about whether it’s being put to use.

RSVP for DemHack’s community needs assessment (Friday, March 18 at City Hall) and the hackathon (Saturday and Sunday, March 19-20, at the city’s Innovation Lab).
Shoutout to Code for Philly executive director Dawn McDougall, who recounted this story in her March 6 blog post about DemHack.


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