With well over 90 cities now scheduled to partake in Open Data Day and with several events expecting 50+ and even 100+ participants I wanted to outline some thoughts to help people who are thinking about participating but not sure what to expect or if they have anything helpful to offer.
First things first.
You can help. You have something to offer.
Second. You are not alone. Many people are not sure what to expect nor what they will do. If you come with a sense of play, curiosity and a willingness to work with others, you will find something interesting to do. And, of course, you will have amazing local organizer who, from what I’ve seen on the wiki and the web, have worked very hard to find a great venue, put together great agendas and reach out to other great people at the event you’ll be attending.
So here are two things even someone who knows next to nothing can do and five projects to consider exploring:
1. Mock Up Your Idea
Not everyone can code. I can’t code! But coding is only one part of a series of activities that can lead to an interesting project. The first… is thinking of an interesting project.
If you have an idea, one of the simplest and best things you can do is “spec” the idea out. Open up Keynote, Powerpoint, or Google Present and create a fake “screenshot” of what you think your app should look like, describe what it would do, and outline why someone would use it. This is probably the simplest most straightforward thing you can do and the most helpful to get others to undestand and want to be part of your idea. I’ve done this a few times, and on several occasions, developers have taken the idea and created it!
The most important thing is to create something. That way others can read about it, build on it or critique/improve it. If you don’t create something, it can’t grow!
You can see an example here where I used keynote to edit a website to add a feature I thought it needed! (plus a whole blog post describing it)
2. Be an Astronaut. Document what you do.
During a recent hackathon I gave an opening address where I urged participants to “be an astronaut.” Not because astronauts are cool (they are). But because of the ultimate (somewhat depressing) responsibility astronauts have – they document and share everything they do so that the next person doesn’t suffer the same fate as them if anything goes wrong.
Hackathons are an effort to create a fun environment to encourage experimentation and foster learning, but that doesn’t mean people have to leanr the same lesson over and over again.
One of the most helpful thing I’ve seen people do during a hackathon is keep a running blog of what the developers were doing. They documented the steps they took, the ideas they researched and the scripts/libraries/etc… they used.
If the project was interesting, these “documentaries” can be helpful to get others involved. If the project is a disaster then, like an astronaut, your piece can be a warning to others so they don’t repeat your mistakes and try alternatives. Even a failure can inspire others to try something that ends up working. Indeed, that is how a lot of innovation takes place.
3. Identify some data worth scraping or share a new data set
While I love open data, there remains a lot of juicy, good government data that is, well… not open. So locating a juicy data set that you think could help shed new perspectives on a problem or help people take action is itself quite valuable. For example, I’m hoping to find a way to “scrape” (e.g. create a re-usable copy) of the City of Vancouver’s budget as well as the provincial budget.
But we don’t have to just focus on governments. I love the call to action in Oakland for its Open Data Day where they are asking non-profits:
“Do you work for or run an Oakland based nonprofit organization? Do you have data problems? Do you have data needs? Because if you do, we can help!”
I’ve always wanted to find ways to get non-profits involved in open data and just thinking about data analysis, so love that open data day can be a vehicle for this.