Civic Innovations

Technology, Government Innovation, and Open Data

From “Zero to Civic” in 5 Minutes

One of the most powerful things about open government data is all of the options it enables.

Open data is the single most important ingredient in civic apps, and it can also power visualizations, mashups and countless other civic uses. The very best open data typically lends itself to several different kinds of uses.

When paired with the increasingly sophisticated tools and APIs available to developers, building powerful and useful civic applications with open government data has never been easier.

This post is meant to provide a quick overview to using open government data to build a civic application – to demonstrate that someone with moderate coding ability, even if they’ve never built a civic application before – can go from “zero to civic” in just minutes.

The screencast below demonstrates how to take an open data set for health inspections from the City of Louisville, KY and build a simple but easy to use text messaging application using open source and free tools.

Imagine going out to eat with friends or family – you happen upon a new restaurant and you’re interested in finding out more. You can check Google or Yelp for reviews, but what if you wanted to know how a restaurant fared on a government health inspection? For that, unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of options.

In Louisville, KY, you can now check how a restaurant or food service establishment fared on their latest inspection using the simple SMS application demoed here.

When governments like Louisville release open data, they enable options for how people consume information. Having more options about how to get data that you find important is awesome.

Think about the weather – there are scores of different ways that you can consume information about what the weather will be like on a given day. Because the data behind weather forecasts is open, it is integrated into all sorts of different channels and platforms. This makes it easier to consume, because consumers can now choose the way in which they get the information they want.

The technology utilized in this demo is pretty straightforward and mainstream. PHP and MySQL are ubiquitous and widely supported.

Should a developer choose a different kind of database to store the Louisville health inspection data, that’s an equally valid choice. If they’d rather use a different technology for their application – that’s also fine.

Developers are free to use the technologies they find most appealing, and to design the interface they believe is most useful.

Open data is the key to all of these options.

It’s the foundation on which an increasingly vibrant ecosystem of applications is built.

2 responses to “From “Zero to Civic” in 5 Minutes”

  1. Great article. I’d like more information on open data and strategies on how to encourage other governments to move towards open data to enable these innovations.

  2. Jason, check out Code for America’s Open.Impact project:

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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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