International Open Data Day 2014 Declared a Big Success

A couple of weeks ago, we wrote here about International Open Data Day, when people around the world celebrate public information and, more importantly, do something useful with data.

Organizers of the movement, led by the Open Knowledge Foundation, reported a resounding success, with hackathon events held in nearly 200 locations and involving thousands of people around the world. They scraped data, made visualizations and built prototypes for new apps. Pretty cool stuff!

Now, the results are starting to trickle in from the hackathons, and I thought we’d look at some of the tangible results already coming out. 

First, though, I want to point out that these events are possible only because local governments, both large and small, have been wise enough to make their data freely available and usable to members of the public who, after all, own the information.

Washington, D.C., Events Draw 500 Attendees

Eric Mill reports from Washington, D.C., that more than 500 people attended the weekend events, double last year’s attendance. Most of the attendees had never before been to a hackathon. They talked about the basics of URLs and APIs, collaboration and tools for mapping in two days of packed workshops.

“Those are huge numbers to me, and it felt like a great way to give newcomers to hackathons an empowering, unintimidating way to participate and grow,” Mill wrote on his blog. “I was greatly gratified to be part of such a huge, positive global event, and to demonstrate that it can scale higher and wider every year.”

A list of project plans from D.C. – and a great place to steal ideas for your own data project – is here.

One of my favorites – one that should be replicated everywhere – is a project that aims to give parents better tools to evaluate D.C. schools. Using data from the state education agency, a team coordinated by Harlan Harris is creating an app that answers parents’ questions about schools in a “straightforward, comprehensive and intuitive way.”

That’s what the Open Data Movement is all about: delivering vital information that helps people improve their own lives. Bravo to Harlan and everyone in the D.C. area!

Vancouver: Adventures with Minecraft, Visualizing the Budget

In Vancouver on Canada’s West Coast, Open Data buffs used six years of data from the provincial insurance monopoly to analyze the decline of bicycle-related accidents on roads with bike lanes and an increase in accidents where bike lanes end.

That’s the kind of analysis that can drive changes in government policy and save lives. And, it could be replicated in any city.

The Vancouver meeting also featured work to visualize where money goes in the city budget, and a hack that allows the public to find all open data on specific individuals or companies. That could lead to better transparency of public officials’ dealings, for example.

Read all about the Vancouver hacks at David Eaves’ site.

In Oakland, Projects for Social Services, Earthquake Readiness

About 100 people gathered in Oakland, Calif., to leverage Open Data for more than 15 group projects. Among them: Creating a Yelp-like app for social services resources and an analysis of the buildings’ earthquake readiness.

The event brought together not just data buffs but also staff from the city and non-governmental organizations who share a stake in greater public knowledge and problem-solving.

Steve Spiker, a co-founder of Open Oakland, told Oaklandlocal.com: “We saw some local government staff getting excited about new mapping tools they learned to use, local tech folks getting informed by city officials who have expertise in local issues and existing civic tech projects building stronger teams.”

We could go on and on, but those results suffice to show the depth and breadth of results from this year’s International Open Data Day. If you didn’t participate this time, we hope you’re inspired to get involved now, and to urge your local government, no matter how small, to make the public’s data accessible.

With affordable platforms now available to put data on line in a form that’s easy to access, analyze and share, expense is no longer a no barrier to entry.

Photo credit: suzannelong via photopin cc

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