It was in December that Jason Hardebeck—Naval Academy graduate, Baltimorean since 1995 and the founder of WhoGlue, which he sold to Facebook last fall for an undisclosed amount—took the reins as head honcho at the Greater Baltimore Technology Council.
Since then, he has been moving at a hare’s pace, scrubbing the council’s Canton office, planning events and recalibrating the membership requirements.
One such event GBTC has in the works is next weekend’s UnWIREd, an unconference taking place at Johns Hopkins University. The event itself will bring together educators, policy makers, technologists, data wonks and creative-class types to deal with two main questions: How can Baltimore use technology to empower aforementioned policy makers, as well as residents and social service providers? And how can citizens unite to improve the city and the region?
This is a bit of a switch. Originally, GBTC’s Groundwork event was planned for a weekend earlier this month, but was rescheduled for after UnWIREd, as Technically Baltimore reported this week. What gives? We spoke with Hardebeck to understand a little better how these two dataset-loving events are working in concert.
TB: So Groundwork will be happening after UnWIREd, which is next weekend?
JH: What we’ve come to understand is it’s not the data [from Groundwork] that’s going to drive UnWIREd. It’s UnWIREd that’s going to drive the data. Groundwork makes more sense after doing UnWIREd because now we can provide focus to what specifically we’re looking for [in the data] to support ideas and projects that come out of UnWIREd. [Groundwork] is independent from UnWIREd, but it’s a component of what we’re trying to do.
TB: And then the way UnWIREd and Groundwork come together is that, once you’ve identified problems in the city, you can look to the data to help form a solution?
JH: There are some nuances there. There’s this notion of a problem. … Everything that has been viewed as a problem or challenge or an issue that needs to be fixed—what if you reframe that? Entrepreneurs look at the world of the status quo as an opportunity. … So what UnWIREd is really designed to do is socialize and communicate some of the cool stuff happening around and the people that are working on it, and then to really look at and create a framework of future [minimum viable products] to prove or disprove ideas to do something. … [And] by putting GroundWork after UnWIREd those MVPs, those projects have been identified, and we can actually focus in on that. Being able to prioritize, where we want—we being all the stakeholders—our efforts.
[Above: Jason Hardebeck talks about UnWIREd on Baltimore Weekly 12.]
TB: And with Groundwork, my sense is the premise of the event is that looking at open data is pointless unless you can bring in groups who can make sense of it.
JH: By bringing the technologists and creatives together with the people who can make sense of the data, [we’ll] provide some insight into why something may or may not be. If I’m just a data guy, and I see something that’s interesting to me—it may or may not be, but if I don’t have a sense of what causes that, I don’t know where to look next. It’s about accelerating the pace of discovery and making it a lot more efficient. The other thing this is designed to do: if left to our own devices, something we think is interesting may be less important. If we can provide the context up front, that’s going to allow us to be more efficient and effective with the resources.
TB: Right. Almost like people don’t really know what city data, Census data, and other data sets mean unless you take the time to figure out what the data might be useful for.
JH: That’s the first step. Data by itself is not useful, and if it’s useful in its raw form it’s probably really simplistic. It’s not about making it pretty. It’s about being able to interpret it, and then also confirming that it says what you think it says. One of the things that I think is going to be interesting as we dig into this is … maybe we identify gap analysis. What is missing? Is there data that is available that is not being shared or maybe nobody even knows? It’s not as easy as opening the cabinet and saying here’s where we keep all our data, have at it.
TB: These events are just building blocks, in a sense, to things later on, but is there a particular goal in mind?
JH: There’s been a tremendous interest and engagement with organizations that may have had no contact or affiliation with GBTC in the past—organizations like … Annie [E.] Casey [Foundation] and others. What we’re doing is identifying all the places where we intersect or should intersect. A big part of our focus … is for Baltimore to be successful and a hotbed for innovation, [and] a lot of what we’re talking about that needs to be fixed is actually essential to create that platform. So let’s focus our efforts on not trivial stuff. My hope is that people figure out a pretty novel solution, whether it’s a small idea or big idea, that works in Baltimore and make a business out of it. Even if all it does is benefit a small slice of Baltimore, it’s worth doing.