Does the world really need another PDF report?

If you’re in government or academia you have surely seen reports that sit on shelves and do nothing once they’ve been compiled. You may even have helped to produce them. They often cost a lot yet yield very little.  At the other end of the information delivery spectrum are powerful, dynamically adjustable web dashboards and interfaces that can often be adapted as needed, but those don’t give us recommendations nor allow us to answer deeper questions.  Often what is really needed lies somewhere in between.

Consider your normal report deliverable – a PDF.  Perhaps you get to provide input for a round of error checking and review once it’s completed, otherwise your only gain as a client is a static document.

Quite often once a consultants report is delivered we realize we should have asked different questions, required more detail in certain areas and more context behind certain explanations, and maybe some things were just not relevant in the end. By then we’re stuck with what we paid for, useful or not.  The fact that it’s 2013 and we’re still thinking in static deliverables and ‘final’ anythings should be astonishing. How can we be smarter about data?

1. Don’t ask for a report.  This assumes that you know everything you will need to know up front, which is often false.  A static report cannot adapt when you realize you asked the wrong question, when you need to dig deeper into a single issue or data set.

2.  Evolve. Consider the flow of information needed for a community planning process- a single dense report up front is simply a huge chunk of information that most people will ignore and most cannot absorb. Ask for data vignets or factsheets on certain aspects that can be delivered along the process timeline to meet needs as they evolve. As your understanding of data needs changes along a process, your data team must be there to support you at each stage.

3.  Don’t silo or isolate your data folks –read more

4.  Iterate. Instead of final delivery and review, adopt a more collaborative approach with your data team. Sit down and brainstorm the direction and details as they form. Waiting for the final version means you’re stuck with it.  You often discover that you need to dig deeper with a specific indicator, or that you need to dis-aggregate to get to the real important stuff. This can’t happen at the end of a report process. Require your staff or consultants to plan for and provide multi-stage reviews. This way the data geeks can get strong guidance from you, and you can better understand the process of getting and analyzing data.

5.  Own your data. or better yet, open your data.  When you pay for a report you get just that, pages, in a PDF.  As we encourage more government agencies to open their data for use by all, we need to do the same in our sector.  When you contract for a report or research support, require the real data to come with it. That way you’re not locked into using the data just how the consultant prepares it; you can manipulate it any way you need.  If you’re a nonprofit or a government agency, you should be considering opening the data for public use. You’ve paid for it, the hard work is done, now you can provide an amazing resource to your community and your stakeholders by publishing the data unearthed in your project.  Data is the ultimate non-consumable resource!  If you’ve gotten government data for your work, put it out there and make it available for others to benefit from also. We work in a far too siloed sector. Why should ten local organizations have to expend the same resources to find the same data? When government data is ubiquitous and easy to find, our work is better, smarter, cheaper.

We need to change how we think about information and about informed processes. We need to be able to learn constantly and to refine our knowledge over time. Static reports don’t allow us to do that.  It’s time we wise up about what to ask for and when to ask for it.  At the very least we need to be asking: “what is the actual value we get from one more PDF report?”.

Advertisements

Creating a new OpenData policy that works for Oakland

You often hear of collaborative models, real engagement and all that, but it often isn’t quite like that in reality. For once we have a chance to do something legit though. In Oakland. Urban Strategies Council has helped to draft a new policy for the City of Oakland to consider and with the encouragement of Council member Libby Schaaf we are making the draft open for any and all feedback. That’s right, you can suggest anything you like for consideration.

In a week or two we will host a roundtable/brainstorm at Urban Strategies Council to get together, hash out ideas and potential improvements and you’re welcome to participate in person.  The draft form takes what I consider to be the most relevant/strongest elements from policies in place in Austin, Portland and Raleigh. Why rewrite what others have done well. That’s what open source is about, and it works for more than software.

For the geekery, this policy is shared in Google Docs, not on GitHub. It’s not that we’re not cool enough or not down with GitHub (witness my amateur progress into that world, ha), it’s that we want something accessible to anyone for review, not just the uber geeks amongst us. We asked a few people on the edge of the dev world and had very resounding agreement that git would be a barrier, so we go low tech.

Have at it people- make it work for Oakland!

Draft policy.

A data-driven organization acquires, processes, and leverages data in a timely fashion to create efficiencies, iterate on and develop new products, and navigate the competitive landscape.

What we do every day. We have a long way to go before local government and nonprofits are even close to data driven!

From DJ Patil

Open Data Day in Oakland! it’s official baby.

 At City Council on Tues 19th, Oakland officially declares Saturday 23rd, 2013 to be recognized as Open Data Day! Wahooo!

This is a great step for our city to be officially recognizing the importance of a number of things we’ve been pushing and supporting for some time. The resolution (linked below) recognizes:

 https://docs.google.com/file/d/1fAkQ0dkbLLpdKEfxjfzP_elKkoqtz74v_RpW2q3rzuiWhFzz2voUNiBhmYM6/edit?usp=sharing

Full resolution text below, linking to a PDF is just too ironic for an open data win! Speaking of such, anyone down to work on getting all city notices out of PDF and into machine readable text? Yes, then join us!

RESOLUTION RECOGNIZING FEBRUARY 23, 2013 AS OPEN DATA DAY IN OAKLAND,
CALIFORNIA

WHEREAS, Open Data represents the idea that information such as government databases should be
easily and freely available to everyone to use and republish without restrictions; and

WHEREAS, Open Data increases transparency, access to public information, and improves
coordination and efficiencies among agencies and partner organizations; and

WHEREAS, access to public information promotes a higher level of civic engagement and allows
citizens to provide valuable feedback to government officials regarding local issues; and

WHEREAS, this month Oakland has formally announced the launch of its open data platform
“data.oaklandnet.com,” that will serve as the central repository of the City of Oakland’s public data, such as
data on crime, public works, public facilities, and spatial data, allowing all users to freely access, visualize
and download City data, enabling public scrutiny and empowering the creativity of civic-minded software
developers; and

WHEREAS, Oakland was honored to be selected as one of only ten cities in America to participate in
the 2013 Code for America (CFA) program, where three CFA fellows will work with the City to identify web-
based solutions to break down cumbersome bureaucratic processes and emerge with better systems that will
help cut costs, increase efficiency, and provide better service to the public; and

WHEREAS, Open Data activists have recently founded the civic innovation organization Open Oakland
– a Code for America Brigade, which meets every Tuesday evening in City Hall, bringing together coders,
designers, “data geeks,” journalists, and city staff to collaborate on solutions to improve Oakland’s service
delivery to all citizens of Oakland; and

WHEREAS, on December 1, 2012 Open Oakland produced the first ever “CityCamp Oakland,” inside
city hall, where over 100 stakeholders came together to discuss solutions to improve Oakland; and

WHEREAS, Oakland recently launched a community engagement web site called
“EngageOakland.com,” to encourage community ideas, feedback and suggestions to help shape, grow and
sustain the healthy future of Oakland; and

WHEREAS, “February 23, 2013 is International Data Day,” a day in which citizens around the world
will gather to access Open Data, write applications, create visualizations, publish analyses, and encourage the
adoption of open data policies at the local, regional and national government levels; and

2

WHEREAS, on February 23, 2013 at Oakland’s 81st Avenue Branch Library, Open Oakland, in honor
of International Open Data Day, will host a day of “hacking” public data and building data visualization tools to
help explain data and make stronger community-government connections; therefore be it

RESOLVED: That the City Council hereby declares February 23, 2013 as Open Data Day in the City
of Oakland; and be it

FURTHER RESOLVED: That in honor of International Open Data Day the City Council hereby
recognizes and salutes Open Oakland founders Steve Spiker and Eddie Tejada; Oakland’s 2013 Code For
America Fellows Richa Agarwal, Cris Cristina and Sheila Dugan, and Oakland’s Code for America sponsors:
The Akonadi Foundation, The William H. Donner Foundation, The Robert A.D. Schwartz Fund, The Mitchell
Kapor Foundation, Accela and Pandora, for their service to the City of Oakland and its citizens.

Open Government in Oakland’s Elections

This month the OpenOakland brigade launched the OpenGov Pledge for all candidates seeking election for Oakland’s City Council and Attorney seats. As of today we have nine candidates who have signed on to our campaign in just a couple of days work, check out who has been quick to the draw and which of your local candidates have yet to commit here:

OaklandCandidates.org

Why would an organization of techs, software developers, engineers and advocates bother with something like a pledge?  It’s because this community is being activated more than ever to participate and to become active, engaged citizens, and we’re bringing with us many of the ideals, perspectives and design approaches common in opensource technology development community. Openness, collaboration, sharing, networked communities and networked project teams.

From our perspective we believe that open government is important for a thriving and accountable democracy. With the technology that exists today, government and citizen can interact with one another in ways that were unimaginable before. By opening conduits from which the public can communicate with government and access the pertinent information about their city, the needs of the public are better served.

One powerful (and commonly referred to) example of how a commitment to open government can better serve the public is by offering taxpayer-produced data online in a free and easily accessible format. A web portal can be a clearinghouse for public data without the need to engage in potentially lengthy and costly public record requests. Such initiatives, which can be powered with open source technology as we are demonstrating, could save the city money and time while also allowing the public easy access to important information immediately.

As OpenOakland, we’re asking all 2012 candidates for City Council and City Attorney to express support for open government principles by signing the candidate open government pledge, here. Similar pledges were signed by mayoral candidates in San Francisco in 2011 and Honolulu this year.

We all recognize that Oakland is poised for greatness, however this will only be fully realized should governance be improved. We thank candidates for showing they believe in Oakland through their candidacies. We want all those running and all voters to know that the Oakland tech community is eager to pitch in to help you make good, responsive, transparent, open government a reality!

Lastly we are not undertaking this pledge as a means of political maneuvering, as a way to shame any candidates or as a tool to later use as a weapon against anyone, OpenOakland will always be a nonpartisan, nonpolitical organization with a focus and a habit of doing positive, supportive things in ways that lift up our community.  We believe this is important and that our candidates need to know that opengov is a serious issue and that there is a local and worldwide community looking to help them make this a reality, especially when it comes to using technology in new, creative ways!

Code for America Brigade Captains

Today the inaugural Brigade Captains were announced as part of the Code for America Brigade program. I’m proud and nervous to be the first Captain of an Oakland brigade- Open Oakland. I think we may well have a co-captain very soon too. There’s simply so many things a CfA Brigade can achieve in Oakland and a lot of work to coordinate and plan it out.

The official version is here:

“Brigade is all about recognizing and supporting the volunteer efforts of civic minded technologists throughout the country who want to contribute to the civic web and code for America where they live. Our aim at Code for America is grow, strengthen, and connect the network of people involved in doing so. We have two mechanisms for doing that.

The Brigade Captains program is our structured, facilitated, ideal model for local brigades and brigade leadership. Captains are enlisted for a one year commitment to develop, publish, and execute a year-long plan for their cities based on our core activities. Captains are hold regular meetings of their brigades, host events in their cities, and share the stories of their accomplishments.”

If you have an interest in open government, open data, civic innovation and have skills to help us move this work in Oakland please join the Brigade site, then email openoakland@googlegroups.com to connect in with us- our first meeting will be next week. Brainstorming, intros, plans and projects. Beer too.

Launch post

Fledgling site for Open Oakand

Here’s the rest of the captains/brigades:

Code for Oakland: Unexpected Awesomeness

It took me a long time to come down from the excitement driven high that was Code for Oakland, our second communty based hackathon in Oaktown designed to build our civic web. I’m refreshed, excited, motivated and optimistic about the direction of tech and civic innovation and engagement in the east bay and have many great people to thank for helping make this event rock.

I want to briefly share some stories of the event and to lay out some of the highlights and things that really stood out during the day.

First, it’s important to reiterate that this is a community supported hackathon, kinda like KPFA- community supported radio. We had some great support from local organizations through financial donations to help make it possible and without them the event could not have happened, so thanks to:
Ask.com
Socrata
Code for America
Kapor Foundation
The Oakland Tribune
Urban Strategies Council
The Kapor Foundation
Oakland Local
Neighborland
OpenShift/Red Hat
The City of Oakland
Pandora

With almost 150 people through the doors this was bigger and more intense than last year’s event. As a data geek I’m looking forward to analysing the data on ticket sales v no-shows in light of our experiment using the pay what you want model.

I’m excited that we had only 30% of the attendees that were software deveopers, engineers, hackers. My first reaction to the ticket sales patterns was- oh crap, we don’t have enough designers. But my man Eddie Tejeda quickly reframed this as an advantage- after all we need ideas and implementors and people who will use an app on each team, not just designers building for themselves and from their own idead. He was right. it worked.

I enjoyed Jen Pahlka’s keynote, showing us what this community can really do and how our impact matters. It’s easy as Jen mentioned, to forget your own town when there are so many needs and opportunities elsewhere that you’re asked to work!

Jen Pahlka

I was then completely overwhelmed with the intense, long list of pitches from our attendees. So many great ideas, all grounded in some very real issue or need in our community. It was brilliant, but tough to manage. I think we did a reasonable job of feeding ideas from our Neighborland system into the Googel Moderator and then trying to form teams based on general interest- given we were late and needed to expedite it could have been cleaner but most people were happy it seemed, even if a few ideas didn’t get a team because the interested pitchers joined other great project teams…

Oaklandwiki session

The first real shock of the day was the result at the end of the hack team formation- we’d spent some real time building out a great set of workshops and speaker sessions for the community and government audience who had signed up and would not be joining hack teams, just like last year. At the end of the team forming this was the scene in the gorgeous auditorium:

Wow. With only a few exceptions the whole room emptied and joined a hack team. No way. Random oaklanders from all walks of life jumped on hack teams? Damn. Stunned. I felt a crazy tension of embarassment that our great speakers were totally ditched (yes me included, how could you all?) and awe that so many people were excited to get involved in efforts they really had no comprehension of till this day. Yes this was an unplanned outcome. Very unplanned but that just makes it even more awesome- Oakland you rock.

The day was solid developing and designing from then on. All speakers cancelled. Empty auditorium. Crazy cool.

Dattit team

What stood out through the day was the intensity and desire for conversation about civic technology needs, engagement opportunities and open government and open data. People really crave a venue for these conversations. I had so many exciting conversations with peopel eager to learn more about what modern tech can offer our community and our city and ways we can support this community more consistently. Love it.

Our awesome judges

We had some elected officials and others show during the day, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, city administrator Deanna Santana,, county administrtor Susan Muranishi and the county IT crew including Tim Dupus and Tobin Broadhurst promoting their new open data resource at data.adgov.org. I look forward to the day when government leaders really devote serious time to be part of these events, but at I think that even the 15 minutes they spent with us achieved one significant goal: these leaders have now seen a building full of hackers! Not hackers seeking to destroy and undermine anything, but hackers with incredible skills seeking ways to support and growntheir community and our government. This is not a small thing. To alter their perception of this community is monumental. Hackers are not “the enemy”. Sure some can be, but the generalization is harmful to productive, innovative society that sees government embracing the abilities of moder, agile, opensource loving developers.

The day was done way too soon. Our judges struggled to identify the award splits between 10 great tools prototyped. The winning app called Hack The Budget is something that for some analysts and data visualization folks may seem trivial, but it isn’t. It’s a perfect example of how data processing, viz tools and throughtful design can take an arcane, clunky, unusable product/data and turn it into something absorbable by the wider community in our city. making government accessible is a huge challenge and this app seeks to do just that. I’d say this is a hugely re-usable app once complete and open sourced. What city doesn’t need a clearer way to navigate its budget- even for city officials themselves! I’m looking forward to immersing myself in this app when it’s complete!

The runner up app was 510eat.org, and as a geogeek I was surprised and stoked to see a full opengeo stack being used to build working app with newly released data from Alameda County. Open data being consumed and utilized as a new tool just two weeks after the resource was beta released. Nice work team!

Oaklandwiki session

Lessons learned for future/other hackathons:

Spend more time connecting teams- we had one viable team with no designers and another team with about 7 developers. Oops.

One day is tough with so many great ideas. The trend of three day hackathons is sensible. Friday evening pitches and team formation. Two days of building. This means we need a better suited venue in Oakland as the awesome Kaiser center has significant costs per day and bandwidth issues. – Ideas? Hit me on twitter with ideas or throw down in Neighborland!

We did a hackthon without soda- no Choke or other sugar hits. And noone died or even complained. We actually forgot to buy them first, then realized we didn’t have them last year either, so we decided to see how it worked out. And it did. We’ll all live a little longer to code a few more lines and make just a little bit more with our lives…

Post seems long now, thanks for getting this far and so long from sunny San Diego!

Mac world?

We have a winner: Alameda County first to launch OpenData!

On top of a great week for data- with the city moving it’s opendata plans forward and a packed event for our first OakX series on the Data Driven City you would think that was enough data related news right? Wrong.

Alameda County has released it’s new OpenData platform in beta version in advance of our CodeforOakland hackathon on the 21st! Presenting:

https://data.acgov.org/

Yep, first Californian county outside of San Francisco to roll out an opendata platform! (Tell me if this is wrong please!) This is the result of many people. We began advocating for publicly available, open data last year and county board supervisor (and board pres) Nate Miley really championed this idea. Kieth Carson and Wilma Chan also have pushed for it. This year the administrator’s office got on board heavily and worked with the ITD folks to plan this effort with some support and guidance from my team here and there. So if you’re in a city or county with no such data resource this is proof that it can happen from an outside source- it just has to make sense to the government staff and leaders to happen- and yes that’s easier said than done!

This initial release is a preview essentially, layout changes and more data are on the way. It’s a Socrata based platform and the key part of that seems to be the turnkey appeal- most counties don’t seem to have the skills or interest in standing up something like CKAN which is perhaps a shame.

The most interesting new data being released from my perspective are the:

I’m looking forward to what local developers, analyst and researchers can start to create and learn with this new wealth of data! Props to Tim Dupuis, Tobin Broadhurst and Theresa Rude for their work on this!

Some playing:

http://geocommons.com/maps/185187/embed

OpenData inches forward in Oakland and Code for America to follow!

This week was a good week for data geeks, technologists and open government advocates in Oakland! The City Finance committee heard and passed onto the full council a plan to both adopt an opendata platform (and policy we expect) as well as the plan to contract with Code for America as a 2013 city (should we be a finalist)!!!

These are great things for our city, a city starved from innovation and good technology  decisions in the past, but these progressions represent a move towards better government and better support of the civic technology community! Finally. The next step for both is to get final approval by the Oakland City Council, I’ll be hitting up people to come and support both so we don’t lose these opportunities.

There was some confusion in committee about the delineation of what opendata was and who would be “doing” it and what Code for America was and what it would be doing. To make it clear:

  • The CfA fellowship will be for a team of fellows- not a single intern. Yes it may seem cheap, but there is a philanthropic match required!
  • The OpenData effort is NOT connected (directly) to the CfA contract. it may be symbiotic, but the opendata system is being planned, built(?) and implemented by an internal city team.
  • Either can happen without the other, but both are immeasurably stronger together!

I’m amused by the city staff assessment of how much it would cost them to build such a platform internally, it speaks to the dire need for Code for America like experimentation and new skills in all governments. Given our OpenOakland brigade member stood up a functioning opendata platform using CKAN in a single night it’s hard to take seriously a claim that we should pay ~$120,000 for developers to build something. This is part of the equation in government that results in decisions made to contract with outside vendors who are too often way too expensive for what they provide but still provide better value and options than an internal solution. This needs to change.

The concept for the CfA partnership is to reform/rebuild the city’s contracting and procurement system- and if you’ve ever had to deal with the city as a small business contractor you know this needs drastic rebuilding! Our city needs this to better support, attract and grow local businesses!

Overall the support for both efforts was strong and there is growing excitement from city staff for both of these opportunities- I’m excited about this also. My one desire for improvement here is that the city staff needs to begin genuine engagement with it’s tech/data community. Simply to build a tool and publish data is basic, good government, but to open up and engage your stakeholders and constituents- that’s great government.

*Disclaimer- I didn’t get to attend the committee meeting, two of my team did in my place. I was busy at a meeting in the City of Richmond introducing the idea of OpenData… the harvest is plentiful

Code for America in Oaktown: The OpenOakland Brigade!

Today we’re launching the official Oakland Brigade: OpenOakland.

If you’re new to Code for America then you’ve been missing out. If you know them, you may not yet know about the Brigade teams. This is the start of a new brigade to create and redeploy civic innovations, liberate public data, spur innovation within government and bring the excitement of opensource tech to the east bay community!

What we’re looking for is a core group of software developers, engineers, designers and data hounds who see the power of open tech to solve civic issues in Oaktown. We’ll be setting up some goals for the next 12 months, and we need creative people to help lift up tech in our city and showcase the ways opengov can really transform this town. The expectations on Brigade members aren’t heavy, but we will need consistent efforts and communication- wasting our spare time is wack.

We’ll be supporting civic tech events, hackathons, government forums and more and will be meeting regularly to plan, scheme and develop key tools to bring civic change.

Our first challenge as a Brigade is to stand up CKAN– an opensource OPENDATA platform. We need to show the City of Oakland that this can be built in and for our community. We’ll also be using this platform as the data repo for the next Code for Oakland hackathon!

If you want to be a part of this, or just hit the first meeting to see if it fits your life then join the CfA Brigade here: http://brigade.codeforamerica.org/brigades/54

Email the group: openoakland at googlegroups.com

Hit me @spjika or @openoakland to connect!

This will be fun.

This will be disruptive.

This will bring Oakland closer to truly Open Government, Open Data and innovation by default!

We will have beer at Brigade meetings.