Customer Summit Amphitheater Sessions: October 27

October 27, 2015 6:24 pm PST | Data as a Service

The 12 breakout sessions in the Amphitheater breakout room constituted a Master Class of open data education, brought to you by the best practitioners in the field. If the sheer volume and amount of content shared in these sessions doesn’t impress you, you’ll just have to attend next year to see it for yourself!

Rounding Square Pegs: Creating Successful Open Data Programs

  • Victoria Lewis, DataMontgomery Program Manager, Montgomery County, MD
  • Barbara Cohn, Chief Data Officer, State of New York
  • John Ridener, Open Data Community Liaison, San Mateo County, CA

Our panel of three amazing Open Data practitioners shared their insights, experiences, and best practices learned from years of developing their programs. They urged new practitioners to focus on data quality, which enables analysis and new learning; to not let the lack of a data dictionary prevent them from going forward with their programs; to engage departments and other agencies to create sustainable programs; and to solicit executive buy-in to overcome internal hurdles and accelerate the pace of a new open data program.

Presenting the True Data Story: Working with Official and Unofficial Data

  • Tiffany Andrews, Code for America Fellow, Indianapolis, IN

Code for Indianapolis has worked with the Indianapolis Police Department to crowdsource use of force data and, despite hesitation from the Department, was ultimately able to create a partnership with them to help inform their policies. As Tiffany Andrews says: “Unofficial data isn’t your enemy — it can actually be your partner.” Tiffany then laid out lessons from their experience, including making the owners of the dataset public, being transparent about limitations, focusing on user experience, and digging into unofficial data to ensure that it is useful and meaningful.

Achieving Transparency in an Untrusting World

  • Jim Colson, City Manager, Topeka, KS

“Building trust through transparency isn’t easy, but it’s necessary,” says Jim Colson, City Manager of Topeka, KS. In an untrusting world, where more and more people are angry and disconnected from their representatives, transparency and customer service are not optional — these things define the minimum threshold that all government agencies must meet in this new world. He called for radical transparency to:  tackle the crisis of civic engagement head-on, use data to show that public investments are having impact, and combat any negative stereotypes about elected officials and government employees.

Data Into Dollars — How the Directorate General Regional Uses Data to Drive Economic Impact throughout the European Union

  • Tony Lockett, Deputy Head of Unit — Communication (Regional Policy DG), European Commission
  • Kevin Merritt, CEO, Socrata

In a fireside chat format, Kevin Merritt interviewed Tony Lockett, an executive of one of the largest government agencies in the world. Tony Lockett helps lead the European Commission in its incredibly complex mandate to deliver services to 500 million Europeans, 28 countries, 274 regions and dozens of languages. By using Open Data, the Commission: shines a light on more than $700 billion in grants and regional assistance that they will issue over the next seven years; identifies problems with data governance and quality; and helps to coordinate its oversight of a diverse and complex region. Tony Lockett shared how the Commission’s program is growing rapidly, expanding from one agency to four later this year, and how they focus on storytelling and providing real context to their data.

Added Value — Open Data’s Internal Use Case

  • Steve Scheepmaker, Chief Technology Officer, Township of Langley, British Columbia

Steve Scheepmaker urged governments to “eat their own ice cream” and consume their open data to create efficiencies, internal value, and new services. Citing examples from Langley that range from making business license data readily available to internal staff, to rapidly conveying election and voting data to the public, to creating open repositories of cemetery data, Scheepmaker encouraged practitioners to study the amount of staff time saved through open data and begin to quantify the impact of their programs.

Why “Open Data” is Sometimes a Bad Idea

  • Christo Norman, Chief Information Officer, Australian Capital Territory

Open data Sucks! Christo Normal, CIO of the Australian Capital Territory, describes the unique situation of open data in Australia. In a country where public trust is high, open data was viewed with a questioning, “Why is this necessary?” eye. Even saving money wasn’t a strong driver for getting buy-in for an open data project! Christo explained how to “get primal” and focus on meeting the base needs of internal stakeholders to get them to embrace the idea. First, make life easy for the data owner by explaining how proactive publishing can save them time and effort. Then, break down organizational barriers and make key information available throughout the organization. Finally, with a strong foundation and useful data in place, the community can engage with and utilize the data — all towards the goal of improving organizational efficiency and making government employees look even better in the eyes of the community.

Go Code Colorado: Creating the Business Case for Public Data

  • Andrew Cole, Program Manager, State of Colorado

Go Code Colorado is a challenge that includes a series of hackathons and other events that connect developers with people and businesses whose problems could be solved by better access to data. The event was created to increase public engagement with the data they were publishing. They also believed there was value in the data itself and recognized that entrepreneurial developers could do great things with the data. They were so successful in the first year working with private company funding and support that they’ve garnered bipartisan support and funding from the state government to continue the program.

Thinking Differently about Open Data in the UK

  • John Poole, Research and Intelligence Manager, Bath and North East Somerset Council, UK

Bath:Hacked is a community organization that works with the local government to create apps that enhance the lives of the people in the community. A hackathon was the catalyst for this group to connect and organize, but they decided to have a hackathon without really knowing what they were doing. This event sparked a group to take ownership of managing the open data process. A mix of people from different businesses and government departments all participated and embraced a set of golden rules to keep them focused on championing privacy and knowledge sharing, and not on politics: 1) Be useful, 2) Be open, 3) Share knowledge, 4) Champion privacy, 5) Park politics. As a result, youth are getting involved with Bath:Hacked and resulting apps are enhancing the lives of the community and helping local businesses. The event was so successful that their minister recognized their work at Parliament.

Austin’s 90-day Data Challenge: Open Data 2.0

  • Matthew Esquibel, IT Division Manager — Web and Application Services, City of Austin, TX

The City of Austin first launched their open data portal in 2011 and accomplished a great deal of activity and interest in the data. However, over the last few years interest started to lag. To address the waning interest, they leveraged the community to reinvigorate the program by launching a 90-day challenge that resulted in a 50% increase in published datasets on their portal. The City Manager called for every department to post data on the site and created lasting motivation within the departments to publish and update data.  The city offered six completely-filled Socrata 101 classes, held hackathons attended by 179 people and 40 city employees, and sponsored a community speaker series from startups to the media. These initiatives helped break down barriers and built relationships between the people that collect and publish data and the people that use it. They ultimately helped everyone understand more how datasets could be used to address important issues like public health with a little creativity and effort.

Stimulating Community Awareness by Collaborating with your Developer Community

  • Derek Eder, Founder and Partner, DataMade
  • Chris Metcalf, Director of Developer Experience, Socrata
  • Jack Madans, Product Growth Manager, Code for America

The panel brought a wealth of knowledge and experience on how to engage a local developer community to really embrace and innovate on public data. Derek Eder shared his experience with the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform (ICPR) to get the Illinois Campaign Disclosure data released. They also created the Sunshine Illinois site ( where all the data for the past 20 years is available to download. Chris Metcalf described how the Seattle government engaged Open Seattle to design hackathons with targeted goals around encouraging the use of public transit. The hackathon was attended by government officials and was a great interface to the hacking community, spurring continued collaboration and development. Jack Madans with Code for America spoke about a volunteer, Lauren Ancona, who attended a civic hack in Philadelphia, created a parking map at a hackathon that got the attention of the city, and now works for the city of Philadelphia. Many brigades all over the country have developed useful apps on open data, including Oakland Answers ( Key takeaways from this panel: Engage with the civic hacking community by being available; realize that civic-hackers will be the early adopters of your open data;  don’t be afraid to say “no, some data isn’t ready yet”; and be an anchor of the event by attending in person.

What Works Cities — How the New Bloomberg Philanthropies Initiative Is Advancing Data- and Evidence-based Governance

  • Beth Blauer, Executive Director, Johns Hopkins University Center for Government Excellence

The Center for Government Excellence at Johns Hopkins, established by Bloomberg Philanthropies, aims to help midsize cities build the capacity to do more with technology and data. They’ve held discovery sessions with the mayors and leadership of 40 cities. They’ve identified nine cities for technical assistance. Leaders from New Orleans, LA; Chattanooga, TN; Louisville, KY; and Jackson, MS were all part of the 2014 What Works Cities program. Open data and performance programs can be challenging for midsized cities due to capacity limitations. Balancing the portfolio of work that will help accomplish the strategy is a key tactic for success.

Open Data in Public Safety: Rise of the Police Data Initiative

  • Justin Erlich, Special Assistant Attorney General, California Department of Justice
  • Denice Ross, Presidential Innovation Fellow, U.S. General Services Administration
  • Emily Shaw, Deputy Policy Director, Sunlight Foundation
  • Mike Wagers, Chief Operating Officer, Seattle Police Department

Policing has been under much scrutiny after unfortunate incidents like Ferguson and Baltimore.  Amidst these challenges, the President of the United States created the Task Force on 21st Century Policing: White House Police Data Initiative. One key goal was to improve police transparency and performance measurement.  They also spent a great deal of effort understanding the different needs at the local and state levels. The local level was the most important to integrate but also one of the most challenging as local departments typically don’t have the resources or technology in place to handle advanced transparency. Partnering with technologists and other strategic and policy partners has helped mature both policy and technology direction.  

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