Civic Innovations

Technology, Government Innovation, and Open Data

Tapping into Open Government

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of hanging out with a bunch of fellow geeks for the better part of a day in Philly at Neomind Labs to work on an open government / open data project as part of the Open Data Hackathon.

Hacking on Open Data

Though most of us had just met, we were able to quickly identify a project that we all thought was worth spending some time on – a more user friendly way of submitting reports of potholes to the City of Philadelphia. (The current interface for doing this is not especially user friendly.)

Once we had decided what we wanted to do, we got down to talking about how to do it – after some coffee and doughnuts (graciously supplied by the guys at Neomind) we began a productive brainstorming session that included lots of talk about the Twitter API, CouchDB, Sinatra and Heroku. Shortly thereafter, we committed some tasks to a large whiteboard in the office and began working on our project.

As the day progressed, I couldn’t help but be struck by how much untapped potential there is in the developer community for open government initiatives. There is so much potential benefit for municipalities if they would just reach out to the developers that live there and engage them to help solve problems and make their communities better.

There are lots of smart, civic-minded people out there that want to help. They’re just waiting to be asked. Sometimes, like this past weekend, an opportunity comes around that provides a glimpse of how significant this untapped potential.
The guys at Neomind are a perfect example of this.

The City of Philadelphia is working towards releasing open data sets and engaging developers to use them to build civic apps. But right now opportunities to build open data apps are not always that obvious. (There is a lot of progress being made on this front and I hope to blog more about the good work being done by Philadelphia very soon.)

But if developers are coming together to build open government apps in cities that aren’t doing all that much yet with open data or developer outreach – like they did this past weekend – imagine what will happen when they do.

Cities like Philadelphia and Baltimore that are moving rapidly toward releasing open government data sets will reap significant benefits as developers in those cities start to use them to build useful applications.

These cities stand to reap the benefits of all of the civic-minded geeks that are out there waiting to be engaged to help make their communities better.

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About Me

I am the former Chief Data Officer for the City of Philadelphia. I also served as Director of Government Relations at Code for America, and as Director of the State of Delaware’s Government Information Center. For about six years, I served in the General Services Administration’s Technology Transformation Services (TTS), and helped pioneer their work with state and local governments. I also led platform evangelism efforts for TTS’ cloud platform, which supports over 30 critical federal agency systems.

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