Civic Hackers Use Public Data To Address Local Challenges

nd_logo_lightThroughout the United States on June 6th, 2015 developers, designers, members of government, and civic minded citizens gathered for the third annual National Day of Civic Hacking.

Organized locally by Matt Bjornson and Josh Kennedy, DevJam Studios hosted the only registered site in Minnesota.

Screen Shot 2015-06-09 at 12.08.28 PMApproximately 40 hackers gathered and listened to words of inspiration and encouragement from the Chief Scientist of DevJam Studios, David Hussman, the MN.IT Commissioner and State of MN CIO, Tom Baden, and MN.IT Chief Geospatial Information Officer, Dan Ross.

Besides encouraging words, Ross also shared the Minnesota Spatial Commons with the group. The site has a myriad of data resources which can be searched by reporting organization, data category, or file type. Released on June 30, 2014, the commons will eventually replace existing state agency geospatial data delivery systems, including the DNR Data Deli, MetroGIS DataFinder and MnGeo’s GeoGateway.

After opening remarks, the hackers had time to mingle and discuss possible projects. Once they’d had some time to mingle, participants were given the opportunity to give pitches about the projects they wished to create. Teams formed based on the interest fostered from the pitches, and the hacking began.

Lunch and dinner were provided by Studio2, and GovDelivery sponsored a happy hour later in the evening. After the noon lunch break, Rick Meyer, and David Ching from MnDot gave their presentation “An Enterprise Approach to API Management.”

Screen Shot 2015-06-09 at 12.08.00 PM

By the end of the day, 3 groups were able to stay the course and give their final pitches – including Bridge for Youth above.

The Metro Transit Accessibility group used census data to create an accessibility score for addresses in Minnesota. Factors they included in their analysis were walkability, transit options, and Metro Mobility access. The group that I participated in used information from the Minnesota Department of Education to examine inequality of discipline enforcement in Minnesota schools. Using data visualization to emphasize the disparity of disciplinary actions involving caucasian students and minority students, they researched and hypothesized possible contributing factors. The third group was from Bridge for Youth. They are working on a way to streamline their intake process and forms to free up more time to focus on serving their homeless youth clients.

The judges were Cathy Beil, Improvement Data Coordinator at the Minnesota Office for Continuous Improvement, Kelly Clausen, Principal Planning Analyst for Hennepin County Center of Innovation and Excellence, and James Kauth, Director of Innovation, MN.IT Services for the State of Minnesota. Aside from giving feedback as to possible challenges and alternative approaches, the judges also extended offers to the teams to connect them with the right people to get their projects going.

Senator Al Franken was unable to attend the event, but showed his support by recording some closing remarks for the hackers. Franken encouraged participants to “continue to be fearless” and to keep working on finding “solutions to real world problems.”


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