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Open Data Day DC 2015: There’s no snowing down DC’s civic hacking fervor

Open Data Day DC 2015 drew more than 300 civic hackers to the World Bank this weekend, despite the bad weather.

At the kickoff of Open Data Day DC 2015. (Photo by Lalita Clozel)
Below-freezing temperatures and several inches of snow did not deter D.C.’s legion of civic hackers from congregating at the World Bank’s Preston Auditorium last weekend.

The fourth Open Data Day DC — one of the larger outposts of the nationwide gathering — brought in over 300 civic-minded technologists.
“It’s very organic,” said organizer Sam Lee, describing the collaborative mood at the series of workshops, breakout sessions and a hackathon. “Everyone is really passionate about this.”
By chance, he bumped into Saurav Keshari Aryal and Anurag Rijal, two 19-year-old Howard University freshmen from Nepal. Even as a computer science major, “it’s really hard to get experience in open data” at school, said Aryal. Along with two of his classmates, he hopes to work with Lee on Code for Nepal, which was founded during last year’s Open Data Day DC.
Many attendees were there to brush up on their skills or learn new ones. “I want to add data visualization into my palette,” said 25-year-old developer Lisa Snider, “to be able to harness it for a good cause.”
Joshua Tauberer, who’s been organizing since the first Open Data Day event in DC in 2011 (at the time, it was a more intimate get-together for about 45 hackers) said it was an “opportunity to hear about what people are working on in different open-data silos.” But, he added, he was gradually seeing “a bigger demand for just learning.”
That might be rooted in the movement’s tendency to point a critical problem-solving approach to its own problem-solving work.
In a workshop titled “Build With, Not For,” Laurenellen McCann and Jessie Posilkin encouraged civic hackers to make inclusion an explicit part of their workflow. “If it’s not brought up as part of the process, it just gets left out,” said McCann.
Despite the dominating open source ethos, she added, many civic hackers don’t go out of their way to open up their project to potential stakeholders. That would require “the permission to move, not at the speed of the product but at the speed of inclusion.”

Jessie Posilkin (left) and Laurenellen McCann ran the workshop, “Build With, Not For.” (Photo by Lalita Clozel)


Yet, “Do I have the right people in the room?” is a consideration that many companies have already learned to grapple with, said Posilkin. If it doesn’t similarly adapt, she added, “the civic tech space will lose its customers — which means the trust of people.”
Other workshops included an introduction to open data by Eric Mill, a tutorial on data science by Aaron Schumacher and an open mapping lesson by Max Richman.
You can look up the list of Saturday’s hackathon projects on the Open Data Day DC 2015 hackpad here. They include:

  • Agroalert, a plan to make open data on produce in Nepal — and eventually elsewhere — accessible to farmers via SMS. It was devised by two computer science students at Howard University, the aforementioned Aryal and Ram Hari Dahal. “We want to both localize and globalize the data,” said Dahal.
  • Campaign Clarity, the brainchild of four Loudon Academy of Science juniors intent on tracing “how much our laws are impacted by super PACs” and corporate cash, explained 17-year-old Raj Shrimali. His fellow high school hackers are Sid SrivatsanSpencer Hong and Tai Jellá.
  • Create.io is working on getting affordable housing data on its SimCity-esque platform for real estate stats.
  • DC Public Library projects, which includes the creation of an RSS feed tracking the DCPL’s latest catalog additions.
  • GTFS Data Group Transit, a plan to use open data to identify redundancies in recently mapped road systems. The group hopes to eventually turn its attention to our very own WMATA.

Open Data Day DC ended at around 5 p.m. Saturday, about an hour earlier than planned, because of the snow.

Companies: Howard University / Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority / Create

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