February may be the shortest month of the year, but for Open Data enthusiasts around the world, February holds our biggest hopes and offers signs of a burgeoning international movement. On Open Data Day (Feb 21) almost 200 global locations (browse #OpenDataDay for a flavor) held events celebrating Open Data through skills-building, networking, and use to help address civic issues. Despite significant snowfall, the growing civic tech community in Washington, DC again displayed its passion and drive in full-force. More than 300 people showed up over two days to Open Data Day DC– to learn and hack with data at the World Bank on February 20 and 21, 2015.
In response to demand from previous participants, Open Data Day DC included more dedicated capacity-building time in the form of workshops and breakout discussions. Once again, Eric Mill did not disappoint with his Intro to Open Data session. Aaron Schumaker delighted the audience with “Data Science Isn’t Magic.” As always, Max Richman wowed the crowd with his “Open Mapping” tutorial. And injecting a bit of a personal aside, I finally had the chance to sit-in on Laurenellen McCann and Jessie Posilkin‘s amazing and relevant “Build With, Not For” session on civic engagement.
And if this wasn’t enough, participants had the chance to join a number of relevant discussions on the finer technical points of open data and its use led by civic tech doers and leaders including Traci Hughes (DC Office of Open Government), Tom Lee (Mapbox), Kat Townsend (a fellow Open Data Day DC organizer- woohoo!), Lindsay Young (GSA/18F), Rebecca Williams (Senior Engagement Liaison, Data.gov), Joel Gurin (Center for Open Data Enterprise), Leah Bannon (Code for DC).
The heart of Open Data Day is of course the rich projects that diverse participants pitch and collaboratively hack on. This year was no different and a healthy mix of local and international projects were worked on- topics covered included DC education (this group always comes out ready to go and plugs their work into Code for DC), Code for Nepal returned a year after launching at Open Data Day DC and worked on a subnational visualization of literacy data, a high school team explored the connection between campaign finance and counter-party political positions (future Sunlighters?), Howard University students from Nepal worked on an SMS alert application for farmers, a World Bank transportation economist led an exploration of a massive taxi dataset from the Philippines, etc. More details and initial outcomes here: bit.ly/odd-2015.
Open Data Day DC was an intense whirlwind- but like many others, I am excited for the next one. Why? For starters, my fellow organizers- Josh Tauberer (Mr. Open Data DC), Eric Mill, Kat Townsend, and Julia Bezgacheva– they are fine, fierce, and dedicated practitioners of open data and good friends to boot. Not only is this crew a pleasure to work with, but our approach to Open Data Day is also a bit of an iterative hack (To this end, please do provide feedback!). Open Data Day DC is not viewed as a one-off event, more of a cog in the DC civic tech wheel. Much has also been said in criticism of the “civic hackathon” in general, but I still believe that when designed and implemented properly (build with, not for again) there are very few citizen engagement tools as effective.
“Open” initially drew me to Open Data, but “Data” has kept me here. And I feel fortunate to be a part of this amazing global and local community.
Thank you to all the volunteers and the sponsors of Open Data Day DC- The World Bank (DEC, Open Aid Partnership, Global Media Development Program, Community Outreach, and Open Finances), O’Reilly’s Strata+Hadoop, U.S. Open Data, Development Seed (no party like a Mapbox party), and Amazon Web Services! This would not have worked without you! See you next year!