Tag: Open Data Day

Putting city data to work at the Hackathon

Twenty-three data sets, twenty people and three hours. That’s the raw material for the kind of innovation that comes out of civic hackathons like the one held last month at the U.S. Cellular Center in Asheville as part of Open Data Day. The day-long conference on the benefits and uses of accessible government data culminated with three groups poring over open City of Asheville data and finding creative ways to put the information to use.

Open Data Day Asheville

The winning team from the 2012 Hackathon pores over open City of Asheville databases.


“There was probably more excitement about the hackathon than anything else” says GIS analyst Scott Barnwell. Barnwell and other members of the City’s Information Technology team arranged the data sets using information that was largely already available to the public but that was enhanced by being consolidated into a City of Asheville Open Data catalog.

Some 23 sets include databases of City-owned property, business license locations and information sets culled from the GIS-based mapAsheville tool.

“The city has a lot of information out there and we keep adding more as we think of ways to apply tools like mapAsheville,” Barnwell says. “The trick is and will continue to be how to best get it into the hands of the people who can benefit from it.”

In recent years, the City of Asheville has upgraded its data managing systems, allowing the IT Services Department to compile data and make it available online in places like mapAsheville, but it is how the information can be utilized that makes a hackathon so interesting.

A hackathon is an opportunity to apply raw data to serve a purpose, be it a civic benefit or financial opportunity. Businesses rely on government data every day. So do groups like neighborhood or preservation organizations. Data represents opportunity and that aspect wasn’t lost on the ODD 2012 attendees.

Three groups tackled the hackathon challenge to come up with some sort of application or revelation using the open data they had at hand, and their efforts went in unexpected and interesting directions. (Click here to see more about how each hackathon team used open data at the 2012 Open Data Day blog.

“First of all, anyone can hack,” says GIS analyst Dave Michelson. “You don’t need to know how to write code, you just need to have ideas. We only had three programmers in the room. And it was really cool to see what the groups came up with.”

The winning group, as voted by the other hackathon participants, created a mapping tool that relates public art to bus stops and considered how this could be used to boost bus ridership.

“A hackathon is like an incubator for ideas,” Michelson says. “It’s a new way to engage the community and create a startup mentality,” Michelson says. The goal, he says, is to enable the community and government to be more innovative.

Michelson points to a community initiative by the Code for America Brigade that is underway to build a volunteer base of creative and interested people willing to carry on the civic hacking mission. As that mission expands, he expects the City will get even more requests for the kinds of data that open even further collaboration between the municipal organization and the population it serves.

Leave a Comment November 13, 2012

Hackathon puts heads together at Open Data Day

open data day logoIn case you haven’t heard, Open Data Day is October 16 (read more about that here), and the City of Asheville is a proud participant. Alongside keynote speakers from Code for America and Open Data Philly, the event will be the site of a Hackathon, a cross-discipline ad hoc on site effort to create useful tools that could assist in the Open Data Day theme of increased access to government data.

City of Asheville GIS Analyst Dave Michelson describes the concept behind the hackathon and what it could offer:

What exactly is a hackathon?

The hackathon is an intensive and highly focused group, in this case a group of citizens, who are usually techies. The group has a very specific goal of rapidly “hacking” together a technological solution to a given demand. In our case, the hackathon responds to a very specific civic issue: transparency and open municipal data. Despite the mainstream, sometimes negative perception of the word “hacking,” a hackathon it is NOT destructive nor is it a malicious attack on a computer system. Instead, it is a problem-solving effort by programmers.

Describe what it is like to be at the table during a hackathon.

The hackathon is usually festive and fun while at the same time just focused on getting the coding done. It resembles a caffeine-infused all-nighter type off feel.

What does a hackathon offer us in the way of opportunities? What can we learn that is new?

Because the hackathon is for citizens and by citizens, it aims to directly answer questions citizens have about how city government works. So as an organization, we learn how we can better interact and engage with our citizens.

How will this hackathon be organized?

Very loosely and open, as it’s based on collaboration. Usually, participants split into one or more groups, come up with a problem they want to solve, then just do it. At the end, we will vote on who wins the right of best hack at Open Data Day.

The design sounds like part of a growing collaboration between the community and the city organization. What’s the take away from that kind of collaboration?

The hackathon relies on open data or some kind of access to data provided in an open way to create highly useful “apps” for citizens by citizens. The data starts with us and ends with you.

Open Data Day will be held October 16, 2012 in the U.S. Cellular Center, Asheville, NC. For information about attending, click here. Tickets will be available through Oct. 12.

Follow Open Data Day on Facebook and Twitter.

For more information about Open Data Day, contact Jonathan Feldman at jfeldman@ashevillenc.gov.

Leave a Comment October 4, 2012

Plug into Open Data Day Oct. 16 in Asheville

Dozens of requests for data come through the City of Asheville every month – private businesses, media outlets and other members of our community all benefit from the availability of public records. So how do government organizations make those records easier to access and how can technology help? That’s the point behind Open Data Day, a conference designed to bring community visionaries and technology experts together in the same room to discuss the opportunities, challenges and implications of using technology to make government information easier to get your hands on.

“In response to feedback from last year’s Cloud Day, we reached out to the community to see what kind of interest there was in an open data day this year,” says Jonathan Feldman, the City of Asheville’s Information Technology Services Director. “It turned out that there was a great deal, from the entrepreneurship community to the technology community, and of course, from government and academia.”

In response to that demand, the City of Asheville is participating with ERC Broadband, BuildFax, VentureAsheville, Epsilon Technology Solutions, Meet The Geeks, and a growing list of partners to hold Open Data Day in Asheville.

Open Data Day will feature national keynote speakers from Code for America and Open Data Philly as well as break out workshops and cross-discipline collaboration to examine the opportunities technology and real-time data access provide.

Technology like email has already proven itself an asset to the convenience of conveying government information. Speeding up access to data has the potential to benefit news organizations requesting information, government staff who spend time retrieving it and entrepreneurs who could tap into a wealth of data they can use to build value in their community. Open Data Day aims to approach the possibilities from every angle available.

“When there is a problem that affects multiple groups of folks, getting together to plan and act is always a good idea,” Feldman says. “When you do, generally, people start to have good ideas and create relationships that they need to execute on those ideas. That’s where Open Data Day comes in. Civic engagement is especially high in Asheville, so we think this is a perfect venue for the discussion.”

Open Data Day coordinators are still looking for workshop proposals, panels or even “hackathons,” where multiple programmers combine their efforts to code new examples of useful applications onsite. Anyone interested in pitching an idea can sign up here.

Open Data Day will be held October 16, 2012 in the U.S. Cellular Center, Asheville, NC. For information about attending, click here. Tickets will be available through Oct. 12. Early bird tickets available Sept. 30.

Follow Open Data Day on Facebook and Twitter.

For more information about Open Data Day, contact Jonathan Feldman at jfeldman@ashevillenc.gov

2 Comments September 21, 2012


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