(Photo by Lalita Clozel)
On a sunny Saturday, dozens of civic activists crowded into a couple of deserted downtown D.C. offices. They were lured there by data. Lots and lots of data.
On this year’s National Day of Civic Hacking, federal agencies turned to technologists to foster ideas on how to make better use of publicly available data.
In the morning, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives asked developers to brainstorm ways to structure the agency’s data. And throughout the day, more than 70 data enthusiasts crowded into Chief’s Massachusetts Avenue offices, where they hacked new tools to help small business owners find and use publicly available data.
Here are some of the data sets and APIs the civic technologists dove into:
- To help investigators answer questions such as “Can a curling iron ignite gasoline?,” the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ research lab has conducted over 600 burn tests. But the data is still hard to sort through. “We can make it a lot more usable to the public, and/or fire researchers,” said ATF program manager Katanya Madison during ATF’s National Day of Civic Hacking meeting at Socrata’s D.C. office. Sixteen hackers, including many who viewed the presentation online, were hot to explore the data sets.
2. City SDK
- Just in time for the yearly civic hacking spree, the U.S. Census Bureau has launched a “toolbox for civic hackers,” said Lilibeth Gangas, who worked on the project. The SDK contains GeoJSON-enabled data, APIs and modules that make it easy for hackers across the country to analyze data from their local community, coupled with national statistics. It’s also cleared up some of the cobwebs in this valuable trove of information. Knowing “the way they define these areas in their own language of statisticians” is no longer a must for a developer who wants to simply explore the data, said Gangas. To promote the new tool, Census has launched a two-month challenge for developers nationwide to make interesting use of the data.
- The federal government has culled the business owner-focused resources, regulations and events from different agencies onto a single website. Business USA has also published a version of its Drupal CMS up on GitHub. The Department of Labor maintains an API and data set portal that is likewise open to the public.
- “Solar right now is all about software,” said Bosco So, a Presidential Innovation Fellow at the Sunshot Initiative, the solar energy bureau of the Department of Energy. “We’re shooting for the sun.” His agency is working to minimize the soft (non hardware-related) costs of creating solar energy products. Solar programming ideas are also being compiled on the Sunshot Initiative’s website.
- The Census Bureau also collects detailed demographic statistics on the nation’s business owners in this recurring survey.
For more data sets, APIs, or to learn about the different projects civic hackers advanced on Saturday, check out the event’s Hackpad.
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