This past weekend, July 27th to the 29th, PlaceMatters presented Colorado Code for Communites: A Civic Hack-a-Thon at the Uncubed Coworking space in Denver. With the support of the Partnership for Sustainable Communities and a number of sponsors and partners, we had a successful event that brought open data, talented coders and designers, and plenty of food and refreshment to produce a strong set of ideas culminating in 2 winning applications to help advance sustainability and livability within the region. If you don’t get through this whole blog post, please at least jump below for ways to get involved in this growing effort.
First, I would like to acknowledge all of the hard work of the nearly 30 participants and a number of partners and advocates that made this a truly inspiring community driven event. In the end our panel of judges chose 2 applications that will receive additional support from PlaceMatters and it’s network of partners as well as mentorship from Galvanize(a local firm supporting investment in entrepreneurial activity through 3 pillars: venture, community and curriculum). These applications were:
- EndPoint – an app built to provide information about the characteristics of your neighborhood and help to support more sustainable choices. In a weekend, the team produced an application using open data from the Denver region including crime data, transit stops, libraries, and demographics among other data. They also managed to pull together a well documented API to serve that data back out to developers in the city. The team included: Levi Beers, Clay McIllrath, Jon Hemstreet, Jiran Dowlati
- RadRoutes – pitched by Justin Lewis and Jill Locantore of the Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG), this application crowdsources ratings of the various bike facilities and provides additional mashups of crash data and bike theft data to help improve biking in the region. It also provides great feedback to DRCOG to make planning decisions on future investments around safety and building a more complete bike network. The team included: Justin Lewis, Michael Lockwitz, Jeremy Thiesen, Mark Scheel, Mehdi Heris
It was a hard decision and we had a number of other apps including:
- CityCycle – an application offering a clearinghouse of information to cyclists in the region on routes, bike racks, and BCycle (bike sharing) stations. The team included: Oza Klanjsek, Ian Harwick, Shilo Rohlman
- MyFairElection – an application offering increased transparency on election day for polling locations. You can find polling location data, the laws affecting voting in your state, check in and out of polling locations to report wait times, rate polling locations, and share that you voted with friends on your social networks. The team included: Karen Suhaka, Cole Chambers, David Miller, Philip Hickey, David Chapman, Curtis Floth
- Parking Thief – parking data is notoriously hard to collect and keep up to date. This app gamifies the data collection process and helps support better decisions around parking and aids in parking management. For example, get more points if you park at a Park and Ride and take the light rail or bus in to downtown. The team included: Vui Nguyen, Andrew Corliss, George Peterson
- Transit Trends – in the absence of real time information, this app allows transit users to report the arrival time of their bus or train and rate the experience. The app could be used to alert users downstream of a late bus. It can also be used to provide real time feedback to the transit agency on the quality of service and support future service decisions. The team included: Laura Leslie, David Viramontes, David Stile, Jim Lindauer
We have encouraged everyone to keep on hacking and stay engaged as this is just the beginning of building a robust civic hacking community devoted to building more sustainable and vibrant communities throughout the region. You can check out more presentations and resources from the weekend on the wiki and read a round up of the weekend’s event from Tekhne (our media sponsor).
While we are proud of the teams and excited about the momentum, the successes extend beyond the apps from the weekend:
- Through the leadership of our partner Open Colorado (including Allan Glen, Brian Gryth and Scott Primeau), Denver released 88 GIS datasets into a truly open data catalog with more to come. These 88 individual datasets can be accessed by anyone without complex forms and contract numbers as was the case before. In this way, the friction to get data in Denver is greatly reduced. This was one of the key reasons we could do what we did this past weekend and we owe many thanks to Open Colorado and the Mayor’s Office for stepping up to the challenge of liberating data.
- Over the weekend, Allan Glen hacked a beautiful soup python script to sync up DRCOG’s already open catalog with the Open Colorado catalog. There are now 412 datasets total from Denver, Boulder County, City of Boulder, City of Arvada, the Town of Castle Rock and DRCOG.
- Dan Melton, Deputy CTO of Granicus (one of our sponsors) built a beautiful mobile app that let’s users search the video archive of public meetings on the Granicus platform and set alerts for search terms like “parks” or “planning”.
- We are working closely with the Code for America brigade leadership to continue to support the growing community here and are very excited about collaborating with cities around the country on open data, civic apps, and sustainability.
- We announced our new series of civic hacker meetups that will begin August 20th through the Code for America Brigade umbrella. All are welcome!
- Chris Vein, US Deputy Chief Technology Officer, blogged about our event and called in to say some closing words. The Office of Science and Technology Policy is interested in expanding successful hackathons around livability and sustainability in other regions.
- We have strong relationships with the local startup and entrepreneurial community including Galvanize, Startup Colorado, Denver Startup Weekend, Boulder Startup Weekend, and Boulder-Denver New Tech. These partnerships have been instrumental and we thank everyone for their support and help throughout.
These successes do not belong to PlaceMatters alone, they belong to the broader community and we look forward to continued success with all of the partners.
Some fun hack facts from the weekend
Things we did well
We really think this weekend went well, and in the interest of helping others repeat this success, here are the things we think we did well:
- Cast a wide net: we engaged with groups all over the region early and often including startups, entrepreneurs, local business, non-profits, foundations, local and regional government, and Federal government. Go out and meet as many people as you can and believe in your vision
- Collect as much data as humanly possible: getting Denver’s data into a catalog was a big deal and helped us have a successful event. Getting data liberated will really make your event that much more successful. [Note 8/1: I attributed the Data Commons incorrectly in the original post, the sentence should read:] The fall will bring even more data as the Denver Foundation will be rolling out a relational Data Commons with its partner the Piton Foundation.
The fall will bring even more data as the Piton Foundation will be rolling out a Data Commons for the state.Think of open data as a platform for success. The apps will fall in place.
- Celebrate local: as much as we could we emphasized local and regional businesses in our sponsorships, refreshments and food. We had food trucks pull up for lunch, dinners were provided by local establishments. We even had a local energy drink (Bing based in Lakewood, CO) and local soda (Oogave based in Denver) and gallons of coffee from a local coffee shop (Pablo’s) that fueled the hackers through the weekend. This also helped make the experience memorable for participants.
- Think global: Chris Vein from the Office of Science and Technology Policy helped us link the efforts of local developers to something much bigger. Doesn’t mean you have to have someone call in from the White House to be successful, but link the effort in whatever way you can to something bigger.
- Don’t judge: if you are the primary organizer, it is a good idea not to be on the judge panel and to distance yourself as much from their decision as you can. This allows you to support all of the teams as much as you can and to focus on the overall success of everyone. I can say that I truly wanted everyone to be successful and not making the final decision helped me focus on that (also, keep in mind you don’t have to use the panel judge format, but this was helpful in our particular case in this event to motivate a nascent community).
- Don’t stop: a hackathon can be exhausting to put together, but don’t think of the hackathon as the end. Work with partners to link the event to a broader network. We did this through announcing our meetups and 4 upcoming startup events in Denver in the fall. We’re working with Open Colorado to figure out a date for a future CityCamp as well. You are most likely not alone and if you did number 1 above, the momentum will carry you forward.
Things we could improve
I won’t pretend we did everything right. Here are some of our mistakes that I hope you can learn from:
- Delegate the capture: we did okay at getting video, images and other media, but it could have been a lot better had I put someone else in charge. As an organizer, I thought I should be in charge of making sure things got captured, but this is a bigger task than I realized and it would have been better to assign it to someone else.
- Get to the idea pitches faster: there were a lot of logistics and it took me too long to get to the meat of the first evening: ideas and team formation. I would probably cut the lead time in half, but it’s hard to know the right balance of explaining vs. doing. Practicing my presentation more could have helped with the efficiency.
- Walk through the event: Friday evening went mostly well, but I should have walked through the logistics of team formation to make it a little less painful. For example, one participant was very displeased with the result. Out of 8 apps pitched, his ranked very high on the voting, but when devs chose which one to build the participant did not get any foot traffic. I could have been more attentive and supportive and figured out ways to make the participant successful, but I wasn’t paying close enough attention. Through a combination of better design and attentiveness I could have turned that problem into an opportunity.
Get involved, stay involved
As mentioned above, we are launching Code for Communities meetups, which will continue in building this community. We invite you all to join us. You can also take the conversation online by joining the Google Group and continue to use the #code4communities hash tag on twitter. Let us know if we missed anything or anyone in the comments below.
A visual re-telling of the weekend by Tekhne