This past weekend I attended the Seattle Open Data Day “unconference”. It was an entire day dedicated to discussing and exploring how we, as developers, as policy makers, as government employees, as designers, as citizens, can use open data to help support our city.
I was a little put off at first by the notion of an unconference: it seemed like a shallow way of framing a smaller, volunteer-based conference event as some kind of anarchist communion of free thinkers.
But I was way off.
At the beginning of the event, I sat down and started chatting with a fellow attendee who works in the Washington state government. After a brief keynote, a group slowly formed around us out of nowhere and we all started throwing around ideas for what we wanted to talk about throughout the day. A few people interested in leading their own sessions wrote down the name of their proposed talks and stuck them in the empty slots on the wall.
Some of the sessions were formal, with a speaker who had a clear purpose and a prepared set of slides. But most were just open discussions. Open discussions that somehow didn’t peter out into awkward silences, but instead kept bouncing along as everyone brought their own perspectives and experiences to each talk.
The biggest lesson I learned during the conference was that I, as a developer, have to take the initiative to encourage government to support open data. There were countless moments where developers would ask government employees, “What data can you give us?” To which the reply was almost always: “What data do you need?”
As a developer, it’s my responsibility to make the case for open data.
There was a kinetic energy threading throughout the entire day that got me really pumped about the possibilities of civic engagement through technology. The pretense of an “unconference” wasn’t really pretense at all: the lack of structure invited the people attending the conference to infuse their own purpose and meaning into the event.
And this ingenuity put towards building the conference is the very same ingenuity that we need to put towards supporting our rapidly growing home.
A Few Things
For notes on all of the day’s sessions, check out the Hackpad.
Here’s just a few things I jotted down in my notebook during the day:
- King County Open Data: Open data for King County
- Seattle Open Data: Open data for Seattle
- Hack the Commute: Seattle civic hackathon focused on commuting
- Socrata Data Sets: Categorized list of open data sets provided through Socrata
- NASA Sounds: Free sounds provided by NASA
- Open Payments Data: Open data about health care payments
- Cicada Tracker: An initiative to track cicadas via crowd-sourcing by Radiolab
- Seattle in Progress: A map of building permits issued throughout Seattle
- Performance Seattle: Open data compared against Seattle’s goals