Civic coders for America gather in DC for a Presidents’ Day datacamp

This past weekend, civic developers gathered at a Seattle data camp to code for America. This Presidents’ Day, the day before George Washington’s Birthday, dozens of government technologists, data nerds, civic hackers and citizens from around the District of Columbia, Virginia and Maryland will join Code for America fellows for a datacamp at Big Window Labs.

The attendees of the Washington datacamp can look to the Seattle Data Camp for inspiration. The civic hacktivism on display there led to engaged discussions about Seattle’s South Park neighborhoodmobile damage assessment appstransit apps, mobile / geolocation appsdata mininginformation visualization.

Perhaps even more impressive, one of those discussions lead to the creation of a new smartphone application. Hear Near pushes alerts about Seattle events nearby to iPhone or Android device users using text messages. Hear Near is now available from iTunes and Android.

Joe McCarthy published a terrific post about Data Camp Seattle that offers a great deal of insight into why the event worked well. McCarthy helped the HearNear team by identifying and defining mappings between the GeoLoqi API and the iCal feed.

McCarthy describes how a creative discussion amongst talented, civic-minded people enabled them to donate their skills to putting the open data from Seattle’s data repository to work for its citizens. He also explored what inspires him about Code for America:

I wasn’t sure what to expect going into the event, but was greatly impressed with the interactions, overall experience and outcomes at Data Camp Seattle. I’ve admired the Code for America project since first learning about it, and have been a proponent of open data and platform thinking (and doing) on my blog. It was inspiring and empowering to have an opportunity to do more than simply blog about these topics … though I recognize the potential irony of writing that statement in a new blog post about these topics.

I suspect that one of the most durable outcomes of the Code for America project will be this kind of projection or radiation of civic empowerment through – and beyond – the efforts of the CfA fellows and their collaboration partners. In The Wealth of Networks, Yochai Benkler writes about how “[t]he practice of producing culture makes us all more sophisticated readers, viewers, and listeners, as well as more engaged makers”. In Program or Be Programmed, Doug Rushkoff warns against “relinquishing our nascent collective agency” to computers and the people who program them by engaging in “a renaissance of human capacity” by becoming programmers ourselves.

While many – or even most – of the specific applications we designed and developed during the Data Camp Seattle civic hackathon may not gain widespread traction and use, if the experience helps more of us shift our thinking – and doing – toward becoming co-creators of civic applications – and civic engagement – then the Code for America project will have succeeded in achieving some grand goals indeed.

This example of directed action at an unconference has fast become the next step in the evolution of camps, where a diverse set of volunteers come together to donate more than money or blood: they exchange information and then apply their skills to creating solutions to the needs defined by a given set of societal challenges.

This model of directed civic involvement has became a global phenomenon in wake of the crisiscamps that sprung up after the earthquake in Haiti last year. The cultural DNA of these camps has evolved into CrisisCommons, which has acted as platform for volunteers to donate their skills to help in natural disasters and other crises.

As the role of the Internet as a platform for collective action grows, those volunteers are gaining more ability to make a difference using powerful lightweight collaboration tecnology and open source data tools.

From the towns of the United States to cities in Denmark, Brazil, Kenya, Illinois and India, people interested in local Gov 2.0 have been gathering to to create applications that use open public data. In December, Around the world, the International Open Data Hackathon convened participants in over 56 cities in 26 countries on 5 continents.

As Seattle CIO Bill Schrier put it this past weekend, they’re turning data into information. Federal CTO Aneesh Chopra has praised these kinds of efforts “hacking for humanity.” An event like Random Hacks of Kindness “brings together the sustainable development, disaster risk management, and software developer communities to solve real-world problems with technology.”

On President’s Day, another datacamp will try to put that vision into action.

The 411 on Digital Capitol Week on 1.1.11: 11.4.11 through 11.11.2011

Digital Capital Week is coming back to the United States Capital on November 4th, 2011. In a livestream today, the organizers of the inaugural 2010 event announced the data and opened the gates for DC Week registration and ideas for events and outcomes. They’re planning on 10,000 attendees this year.

If you missed it last year, Digital Capital Week showcased technological innovation in Washington. Following the success of last year’s event, it’s safe to expect some kind of  “Gov 2.0 and Org. 2.0 Day” event, with sessions on nonprofits and social media, government transparency, cloud computing and privacy, mobile technology in 21st Century statecraft,  online engagement, the digital divide and open leadership. Here’s the details on this year’s festival, along with statistics from last year:

DCWEEK 2011 Overview

The 411 on DC Week 2011

DCWEEK is a week long festival in the US capital focused on bringing together designers, developers, entrepreneurs, and social innovators of all kinds.

It’s a series of 100s of distributed events powered by the community and complemented by core conferences, parties, and projects created by the festival organizers iStrategyLabs and Tech Cocktail. DCWEEK 2010 was assembled in 3.5 months and drew 6,000 attendees from around the world. This year we’re planning on 10,000+.

What you can do now:

  1. Submit an idea and we’ll make it happen: http://bit.ly/dcw11ideas
  2. Join the Facebook Group to meet others: http://bit.ly/dcweekfb11
  3. Follow us on twitter: http://www.twitter.com/dcweek use #DCWEEK
  4. Explore the full website: http://www.digitalcapitalweek.org
  5. For sponsorship or other info email: goto@digitalcapitalweek.org
  6. View the full overview, including last year’s metrics: http://bit.ly/dcweek10mets

This was a terrific event last year and promises to be even bigger in 2011.

Washington, D.C. publishes its first digital divide strategy

The digital divide in D.C. is an issue that has been receiving increased sunlight under the District’s chief technology officer, Bryan Sivak. As the Kojo Nnamdi Show episode on the D.C. digital divide reported, “a 2009 study by the OCTO found that the digital divide runs very deep in the city – 90% of residents in Northwest D.C. have high-speed internet access in their homes, but in Southeast, that figure falls to just 36% – 40%.”

Earlier this year, Washington became the recipient of stimulus funding for a digital divide initiative. This summer, the city turned on free wifi in many neighborhoods, which can be viewed at DC.wifi.gov. Today, Sivak announced D.C.’s first digital divide strategy:

Proud to announce the release of DC’s first ever strategic plan for addressing the digital divide: http://octo.dc.gov/octostrategyless than a minute ago via Chromed Bird

It’s embedded below in the post. Interestingly, the digital divide strategy announcement at the Office of the Chief Technology Officer of D.C. indicated that it would be a “living document,” much like the Web itself:

OCTO is pleased to release a public draft of the District of Columbia’s first ever strategic plan to address the digital divide. This is intended to be a living document, updated quarterly or bi-annually as conditions warrant, and will reflect the current high-level vision of the District Government as it relates to tackling this important issue. Feedback is welcome so please feel free to share your thoughts and help us bridge this gap.

Digital Divide Strategy

For a feel for the thinking of the DC CTO on this count, watch Sivak’s closing statement from the District of Columbia’s first-ever “Community Broadband Summit” (DC-CBS) is embedded below. The summit was a public forum designed to address the city’s digital divide.

Bryan Sivak – Closing Remarks from DCNET Multimedia on Vimeo.

It’s not clear whether Sivak will stay on under incoming Mayor-Elect Vincent Gray’s administration. If not, here’s hoping his replacement works with the D.C. tech community to connect more citizens to the Internet. Online access has become a vital link for information, services, access to jobs, education and communication with family, friends, teachers and coworkers in the 21st century. The District should be commended for continuing to working to bridge it.

What do you think of the strategy? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Data BBQ features District tech entrepreneurs, passion and tasty open data.

Get off your index and build your Rolodex,” read the invite to last night’s Data BBQ in Washington, D.C.

And last night, that’s exactly what over a hundred people from around D.C.’s growing tech scene did, spilling out of the revamped officers of Insomniac Design in Bladgen Alley, near Mount Vernon Square.

The crowd was leavened with many attendees from the ongoing mHealth Summit 2010, manyof DC’s open data geeks and supporters and. Expert Labs’ Gina Trapani and Waxy.org’s Andy Baio came by from the FCC’s Open Developer Day to mix and mingle too. The highlight of the Data BBQ was the lightning talks, where attendees pitched projects, ideas, jobs or even spare rooms to the crowd. The talks are embedded below:

Many of the mHealth conferees no doubt know about the Health 2.0 Developer Challenge from the Department of Health and Human Services, where health data is being mashed up into new applications.

And, judging by the show of hands, many of the Data BBQ’ers had also heard about the World Bank’s Global Apps for Development Competition, which is looking to the development and practitioner communities to create innovative apps using World Bank data.

What might have been new to a few, at least, was the upcoming Apps for Army competition for the public, where the successful apps competition that Peter Corbett and iStrategy Labs helped the Army run will be rebooted for wider participation.