Collaboration Takes Center Stage at SF Housing Data Jam

June 7, 2013 10:34 am PST | Data as a Service
San Francisco City Hall

Last week the City and County of San Francisco hosted a Housing Data Jam. Led by Presidential Innovation Fellow Ian Kalin, who just finished a tour with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the half-day event was co-hosted by the San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation, the California Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development, and Code for America. Held in City Hall, the event brought together leaders with many different perspectives on the housing issues challenging San Francisco, from nonprofit leaders to energy efficiency experts.

The Data Jam was inspired by Mayor Edwin Lee’s 2013 State of the City address and the recent passage of a new Open Data Ordinance by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Based upon the principle that “open government data has the power to create real economic value,” the invite-only event gathered investors, policy experts, executives, technologists, and entrepreneurs together to brainstorm new applications that could be developed using open data.

“Open data has the power to fuel innovative new products and services that can help people while also creating new jobs,” said Kalin. “Events like these Data Jams are helping to put public data resources in the hands of people that have the skills and civic motivation to rapidly transform the data into valuable tools.”

Getting Down to Work

The Data Jam began with opening presentations from a number of federal, city, and state leaders, including Kish Rajan, Director of the California Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development, who described open data as a “playground for brilliant people.” Attendees were then split into five groups and given general topic areas to innovate around, including homelessness, building safety, health code violations, energy efficiency, and new construction development.

I worked in the “Building Safety” group, alongside tech entrepreneurs, civic activists, city leaders, and an Obama Administration Open Data Initiative leader. Everyone contributed ideas and information. In the end, we came up with a mobile app called “Safe Block” that aggregates a variety of publically-available safety information about a property, such as soil and water toxicity ratings, crime activity, traffic incidents, and more. A person looking to rent or buy a property could enter an address and quickly understand how healthy or safe their environment might be. 

SF Datajam 4After meeting for a couple of hours, each small group then reported back to the larger group and that is where the magic happened. The incredible wealth of knowledge and passion in the room quickly became clear. For example, nonprofit leaders shared the realities of putting Section 8 Housing vouchers to use when little housing is available. City leaders suggested existing resources that could make projects flow more smoothly. And, entrepreneurs pointed out the business possibilities certain ideas opened up.

Once the group had prioritized and consolidated the projects, participants volunteered to give their time and talents to making them a reality. According to the Data Jam format, every idea will have 100 days to develop into a working prototype and earn the chance to be featured by the event coordinators and the Obama Administration’s Open Data Initiative at a celebratory “Datapalooza” later this year.

“Open data can highlight the often invisible factors that contribute to people’s housing experience, such as safety, health, and energy use,” said Jay Nath, the City of San Francisco’s Chief Innovation Officer. “And, open data can be a way for entrepreneurs to leverage freely available resources to develop products and solutions around housing.”

A Springboard for Further Innovation

The energy at this event was moving. Everyone there wanted to improve San Francisco citizens’ housing options and everyone had something unique to contribute to that effort. And, for many, thinking about the problems in the context of open data was a first but they embraced the idea quickly.

“Even with the excitement at the Data Jam, the best is yet to come,” said Kalin. “The Datapalooza that will follow in less than 100 days will showcase the civic entrepreneurs and also feature newly available open data sets and new challenges from the sponsors.”

If you would like to see all of the ideas created by the group, plus more, go to the ImproveSF website. You can also look for updates on Twitter at the hashtag #sfdatajam.

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