Opinion

DataPalooza to unlock data for the greater good

Unlocking data for the greater good is the goal of North Carolina’s DataPalooza.

Designed as an open competition, the organizers of the annual event challenge creators, designers, and developers to use publicly available data to develop solutions that have social and economic value.

Data are provided by over 800 sources of state and local government data including NC Economic Development through AccessNC, Wake County’s Open Data Portal, and Durham’s Open Government initiative.

To make the data even more accessible for competitions, events, and organizations, a community-owned open data sharing platform has also been created. On the site, dedicated developers and curious citizens can find things like a crowd-sourced community asset map where people can add cool places and highlight the strengths of their neighborhood. There is also data on affordable housing by census tract, weather trends, public transit information, school performance, health-care, public safety, and economic development.

NC DataPalooza’s mission is “to provide a robust set of usable open data that can be manipulated by local entrepreneurs; increase regional collaboration around open data; stimulate significant economic and community development, and position North Carolina as a hotbed of open-data and entrepreneurial activity.”

The seven-week competition kicks off with an open hackathon called CityCampNC in which individuals assemble, get introduced to a wide range of data sets, and then start brainstorming potential innovative ideas to use the data to increase quality of opportunity and life for local citizens. From this process, select teams are invited to do a five-minute pitch followed by questions by a panel of judges at All Things Open – a conference that attracts over 3,000 participants to the Raleigh Convention Center in mid-October.

Team projects are assessed based on the following criteria: potential impact; sustainability and growth potential; progress made to date – with a particular emphasis on creating a “minimum viable product;” the quality of the design and user experience; and meaningful and appropriate integration of open data.

Last year’s winner was Kid Transit developed by a sixth grader from Durham’s Central Park for Children and his dad using open source data to create “walking school busses.” Through a mobile app, students and parents can identify safe routes to school and organize walking or biking groups. Through an incorporated tool called Survey 123, principals can track the groups, view live traffic, and dispatch help if needed. The technology also helps identify barriers to pedestrian and cycling mobility and helps school systems reduce bus use while boosting community involvement.

Last year’s winner was Kid Transit developed by a sixth grader from Durham’s Central Park for Children and his dad using open source data to create ‘walking school busses.’

On Nov. 13, three teams will compete for this year’s $5,000 grand prize at HQ Raleigh’s Cannon Ballroom. Selected from nine semi-finalists, the final teams include Civic Rise – a smartphone app that sends users calls-to-action for causes they support. By matching user’s interests and location information with open data on legislators, political offices, and election, the app helps users contact their local legislators, collaborate with others who care about the same efforts, track impact over time, and learn about new causes and efforts that may be aligned with their values.

Along the lines of boosting civic participation, another of this year’s finalists is a tool called Are We Represented? It compares the demographics of local and state politicians with the communities they represent. The goal is to create an easy-to-understand visualization of potential discrepancies or alignment in representation and the impact this can have on policy making.

“Connecting Communities” is the third finalist. Created by a team of Triangle residents, the mobile app is designed to provide local residents with a single stop source of information for all of their town’s relevant information including real-time alerts, phone numbers, local news, social media feeds, and public calendars.

Launched five years ago, NC DataPalooza was modeled off a national open data competition developed by the Obama White House. Inspired by the transformative social and economic value of making open data available in the 1980s such as global positioning satellite data (producing an estimated $90 billion of economic value annually) and open weather data (whose derivative product and service value is estimated at $15 billion), the Obama administration created a set of competitive “DataPaloozas” using open data in education and healthcare.

Today, by connecting North Carolina’s creative talent with available public data, we have the opportunity to create similar social and economic value for all of our benefits.

Christopher Gergen is CEO of Forward Cities, a Founding Partner of HQ Community, and author of Life Entrepreneurs: Ordinary People Creating Extraordinary Lives. Stephen Martin is deputy chief of staff at the nonprofit Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro. They can be reached at authors@forwardimpact.info and followed on Twitter through @cgergen.

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