Code for Oakland- Volunteer Mixer

Are you a programmer, coder, mobile developer, engineer, product manage, UI/UX designer or some other tech loving person who wants to improve our city using technology?

If the answer is yes, and you’d like to get involved in this year’s Code for Oakland – the Oakland and East Bay-focused hackathon scheduled for July 21, right here in Oakland at the Kaiser Center near the lake – please come to the first Volunteer Mixer where you can meet and join the core Code for Oakland team and help make something really cool happen.

We’re looking for volunteers for the following teams:

Data catalog: Help pull together date developers can use to build apps for Oakland. We’re working with both local state, city and county data and national data sets that have local value.

Team Leads:
Steve Spiker, Urban Strategies, Nicole Neditch, city of Oakland

Logistics and day of: Who, what, when, where, wires and wireless–this critical team makes sure we have a space, volunteers to check people in, food, drinks and a nice after party–and maybe some cool T-shirts? If you’re good at getting things done, we could use your help.

Team Lead: Anca Mosoiu

Marketing and Promotion: We want everyone to know about the Hack Day and the programs we’re putting on July 21, so folks with skills in marketing, social media promotion and event management are needed.

Team Lead: Krys Freeman

Outreach and Community: The focus may be tech, but the problems we want to solve are those many in Oakland experience. Help plan and present some listening sessions and events that empower community members to share ideas for apps to build.

Team Leads: Paul Richardson, Matt Senate

Programming: What’s on the agenda day of? Who are the judges, speakers, presenters as we kick off our hack day–and what’s the format for those who wish to attend to learn, not to code? Help plan a great program.

Team Lead: Susan Mernit

Sponsorships: Want to help make sure this event – and the prizes for developers who build products – get funded? Join the Sponsorship team to help make the costs balance out.

Team Lead: Deb Acosta

Sustainability: How do we make sure we USE what our hack teams build–and how do we help these teams finish what they start? This is a critical question – and one we hope everyone who works on Code for Oakland and has an interest can help address – just let us know you’d like to be involved.

We have about two months till the event. We’ll be meeting every two weeks for an hour in the evening and working virtually through tools like Google Docs, Basecamp and possibly a wiki to coordinate.

If you’d like to participate, RSVP to our invite and come to our Volunteer Mixer at Tech Liminal to sign up for a team to work with.

The Deets

SIGN UP AND LET US KNOW YOU’RE COMING: http://www.eventbrite.com/event/3634559064

When: May 29, Tech Liminal, 6-8 p.m.

Where: 268 14 St., Oakland

More info: codeforoakland.org

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And coming from behind: Alameda County to adopt OpenData!

Some days you get pleasant surprises. Some days bureaucrats really do get stuff done. Some days government staff really do agree and align their efforts with those of the elected leaders who typically just butt heads with those they lead. Yesterday was one of those days.

Alameda County is going to be adopting an opendata platform this year, with either a live portal or an alpha version for internal review by the board of supervisors retreat in September. Just like that. Well, not quite that easy. Late last year we were part of a new committee setup by Supervisor Nate Miley to examine ways to integrate data between agencies and after some initial discussions we pushed the group to consider the value of making much of these data available to the public. We delivered a few demos on our web mapping and data tools and developed some materials showing the benefits, principles and reasons for opendata in governement. As with the City of Oakland I drafted a policy piece, some guidelines on how to select data within each department and a guide to implementing opendata across the county. Couple meetings happen, then nothing, silencio.

But during the silence the county was actually doing something constructive. Albeit choosing a vendor (some things don’t change), one with a heavy monopoly, but still making a good decision for the county. Alameda County will be rolling out a Socrata portal.  Now I do like their tools, they make an excellent product, I’m just saddened to see a steady monopoly in a space that is all about openness, opensource and innovation. Personal grievance aside, this is GREAT!

There is now some real momentum to this working committee to make something happen. Socrata got the nod because it’s just so damn easy, turnkey and all that. I can’t disagree, it really lowers the barrier to entry for agencies without the opensource chops to stand up a CKAN instance, sadly, and that will likely be the same scenario in most US cities I’m guessing, although it will be interesting to see just what Junar can come up with.

There’s a lot of work to do, many agencies have reservations, many have piss-poor data ecosystems and this seems threatening, but there is some exciting progress, including the sheriff agreeing to publish their data in a usable format for the first time publicly. Did you know that Alameda’s sheriff published block level (hmm) crime data to Crimereports.com for the past year? I didn’t, not that it matters much when you only publish government data into one closed, average system.

Our next step is to work through some issues that we’ve discovered within the county systems in the course of our work- serious data deficiencies that only a small does of modernizing would yield some serious gains. We’re also hoping to get a couple of new data sets released in time for the next #CodeforOakland hackathon on July 21st. I’ll also be curious to see if a larger urban county can help to pull up some of the smaller cities in it’s coverage to use their same data platform.

What is surprising is that despite their being serious approval of this effort at an elected leader level there isn’t a desire to formalize this effort in legislation, policy or directive. I suggested that this rare circumstance of staff and leaders wanting the same thing is the perfect opportunity to get supporting legislation or directives in place- partly to sustain it beyond the current champions and also to really leverage these good efforts. It’s really wonderful to see county staff and leaders working in the same direction- it’s not as common as you may think. Once again technology and data are really capable of bringing about cultural and functional changes beyond their seemingly innocuous scope of impact. Geeks unite, open government is creeping forward.