Central Texas Bar Camp: Hack Your City

I did a presentation "Hack Your City" at the Central Texas Bar Camp yesterday. It was intended to be a demonstration presentation on open government and open data resources. Unfortunately, due to A/V issues, the demo part was nixed. So, I did an on-the-fly Plan B instead, which, I think worked out fine, based on the group discussion.

I did promise to blog the resources I wanted to show, so here we go.

City of Austin Data Portal – https://data.austintexas.gov/

The City of Austin has a formal open government and open data initiative. The data portal was launched January of 2012. It's a good platform, but limited availability of quality data sets. The portal uses a product from Socrata. It has the advantage of supporting both kinds of open data consumers. The first is developers who want raw data sets. Here, a given data set can be downloaded in a variety of forms (XML, JSON, CSV, etc.) The portal also supports individual analysts, such as neighborhood activists and journalists, with features such as reporting and visualization/mapping. This solution obviously requires budget. There are less expensive, open source alternatives available.

City of Austin GIS Data Sets – ftp://ftp.ci.austin.tx.us/GIS-Data/Regional/coa_gis.html

This page existed before Austin had a formal open government initiative. Often, individual city departments will provide data online, even if there is not a city-wide effort. The GIS department is a good place to look. There is a wealth of interesting and valuable information published in these GIS data sets.

City of San Antonio Open Government Page – http://www.sanantonio.gov/opengovernment/

By state law, much of the information produced by government is public information. You just need to ask for it. Although SA does not have a city data portal, it does make its public information request process readily available. The thing is, governments hate public information requests (PIR). It isn't that they hate sharing information, but they hate all of the expense and labor that is mandated by the formal public information process. You might be able to justify an open data policy in your city on the basis of saving money through reduced PIRs.

SAPD Crime Data – http://www.sanantonio.gov/sapd/indexcrime.asp

Remember what I said about individual departments sometimes provide data online, even if the city doesn't have a data portal? Here is an example. James Rubino gave a demonstration of scraping SAPD crime data, and proposed putting it into a database and exposing it through a web service for analysis. (He's looking for volunteers to help.)

OpenAustin – https://groups.google.com/group/openaustin

The OpenAustin group is advocating for more and better open data from the city. Join their mailing list if you are interested.

Code for America Brigade – http://brigade.codeforamerica.org/

If there isn't an existing "open government" effort in your city, Code for America wants to help. Austin is participating in the CfA fellowship program, and has resources dedicated to open government efforts. The Brigade program is a way for CfA to expand their footprint from select fellowship cities to nationwide. The Brigade portal offers a way for local "civic hackers" to connect. It also points to "ready to deploy" open source applications that may be helpful for your city – such as a free, open source data portal.

Open Data Handbook – http://opendatahandbook.org/

An excellent, comprehensive handbook on issues related to open data.

Open Government Initiative – http://opengovernmentinitiative.org/

A model directive that a city may use to start an open government initiative.

My Open Government Links – http://www.pinboard.in/u:chip/t:opengov/

Links I've collected on open government documents and resources.