The District is about to get a lot more user-friendly.
This weekend 250 people will descend on the World Bank headquarters in Washington, DC to improve their city with public data. Armed with laptops and software building skills, these civic technologists will create applications and websites that make it easier for Washington, DC residents to have a voice in local government, and hold it accountable.
These community-improving efforts – Open Data Day DC–are part of the 2014 International Open Data Hackathon. In over 100 cities on five continents, technology experts, everyday citizens and public servants will gather to solve local problems using software and public data sets–like laws or spending numbers. BaltimoreCode.org, for example, started in a similar event last year.
The OpenGov Foundation team will be there, working on projects to liberate the District’s regulations and rules from inaccessible formats. But that’s just one of a number of promising projects. Open Data Day DC activities include four helpful workshops and a myriad of engaging projects for developers, designers, and interested citizens to tackle.
Organized by leading open data developers from GovTrack.us, Sunlight Foundation, USAID, and the World Bank, the event welcomes everyone–no coding experience required–and aims to “strengthen the open data community and to make connections between people and between projects.”
How it Works
In the spirit of open data and information, all registrants are welcome to submit projects prior to the event, using the official Open Data Day DC hackpad. Participants can peruse the proposals, volunteer for a project, add information, or just show up at the event with laptops and open minds. Project teams will have three sentences in which to pitch their ideas, and then attendees will choose how they want to get involved. The workshops run simultaneous to project development. No competitions or bro-like shenanigans here, just straight-up do-gooders working together to exchange expertise and ideas.
The workshops aim to introduce important concepts to attendees: open data, open collaboration, open mapping, and the basics of coding with Python. Project proposals range from building an open directory of social services in DC, to mapping oil drilling infrastructure in Nigeria, to visualizing aid results in Afghanistan.
OpenGov Foundation’s Role
Open data remains essential to what we do at OpenGov Foundation. Accessing the data that we need, in the format our developers need, remains the biggest barrier we encounter in posting the law online and opening up legislation for crowdsourcing. We’re excited to connect with other open data disciples and to build the movement for open data and transparency. We’re also bringing two projects with us to the event and look forward to getting some help with them:
State Decoded Global Law Search and Compare
Lawmakers frequently lean on existing laws in other jurisdictions as examples when creating laws for their own city or state. For example, a lawmaker in Maryland may want to look at laws about gambling in other states before starting to write a gambling bill herself. Right now, finding and organizing these laws remains difficult and time consuming.
We post state-and city-level legal code online, using The State Decoded software. With this project we aim to develop a cross-instance search function to enable users to easily compare laws and regulations across all of our current State Decoded instances.
DC Municipal Regulations Conversion
The D.C. Regulations are just as important as the law itself when determining what rules citizens must live by. Right now it is very difficult to search these regulations, identify and follow code references, and there is no API or even bulk downloads for developers to use.
The Municipal Regulations of D.C. reference existing laws that are already easily accessible online. By scraping dcregs.dc.gov and converting these regulations into the StateDecoded XML format and the DC Code prototype format we can just as easily browse the city’s regulations and add cross-links between the two bodies.
These two projects will help us move towards where we want to be with the State Decoded, but more importantly, will enhance the ability of citizens and government officials to access the law in useful ways.
How to Get Involved
If you’re going to Open Data Day DC, come say hello to the OpenGov Team! We’re looking forward to meeting other open data disciples. You can also connect with us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @FoundOpenGov.
Registration is now closed; however, if you’re not registered but still want to be involved, take a look at the hackpad for ideas on future projects. Follow the Twitter hashtags #OpenDataDay #DC. And contact the event organizers to learn about other great meetups in the DC Metro area. The huge response to this year’s International Open Data Hackathon highlights the exploding field of open data and civic technology, and the amazing works that are already out there. There’s plenty to do, and all are welcome. Get involved!