It is, as always, with a fair amount of wonder that I watch the open data day wiki grow each year. This year there are 100 self organized events taking place worldwide (at last count). It is an impressive number. This includes events in places like Buenos Aires (which is doing open data street art), Ilorin Nigeria, Kampala Uganda, Barcelona Spain and Aomori Japan to name just a few.
Many of these events have speakers lined up, projects to hack on, seminars and workshops organized. Others are straightforward hackathons and/or unconferences.
If you are heading to an Open Data Day event be sure to take a look at the local events page on the wiki or local website to see what is planned. But if you are looking to get inspired… here are 6+ ideas for what to do on open data day.
1. Use Where Does My Money Go to create a simple visualization of a government budget.
The nice part is… it is open source. Check out the code here. No reason why a small team couldn’t fork it and enter in new numbers to visualize the local, regional, state or national budget near where you live!
2. Don’t fixate on an app – fixate on your community
Here in Vancouver I’m inviting Andy Yan of the local non-proft BTAWorks to give some opening remarks at our open data day. Why? Because Andy is a legendary user of local open data. And he doesn’t build apps – instead he uses data to better explain Vancouver to Vancouverites.
Andy uses simple mapping software, and even sometimes just plain old excel to take data and analyze it. He’s written about property values in Vancouver (on several occasions), enrolment patters in the city’s public schools, the distribution of coffee houses and books stores in the city and, perhaps most notably, an analysis of the number of empty condos in a city with expensive real estate.
My point with Andy’s work is that you don’t need to create an app to use open data. Indeed, it may not even be a good idea. Rather there is lots to be done just analyzing data or figuring out different ways it may have meaning for the people who live in your city. If you can enable more people to understand an phenomenon or problem that is, in of itself, quite valuable.
3. Find Your People
While Open Data Day has become a “thing” it isn’t an organization or a group. It is just an excuse with some simple rules for a world wide community to mobilize itself at a very local level.
That said there ARE lots of amazing groups out there. And Open Data Day is the perfect day to meet some of them and get involved in the amazing work they are doing. Indeed, groups that use open data have a variety of flavours – so there is often something for everyone. Some of these groups include Hacks and Hackers (journalists and software developers), Open Knowledge Foundation (open data activists), Code for All (civic hackers), Mozilla (open web), the Sunlight Foundation (government transparency), to name but a few. There are also lots of more local and national based groups, as well as industry specific groups such as the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative and the International Aid Transparency Initiative. Often someone at your local event will already be a member of one of these groups – it is a great time to learn more and maybe even join!
4. How to be useful even if you don’t code or can’t use excel
Last year I wrote about three ways anyone can participate in projects on open data day. There is nothing that stops you from creating a keynote/powerpoint that mocks up an idea you have for an analysis or app, or from helping a group document its work so that others can replicate it, or from just going out and finding some useful data that you think might be in the public interest and working with others to get it scraped and made usable.
Indeed what I love about all these examples is that they are paths to learning more. The straight fact is, I can’t code and I have only limited proficiency with something like excel. But I’ve always found ways to make myself useful and in doing so… I have learned so much.
Open Data Day is less about doing than it is about learning, networking and organizing. Ultimately there is nothing stopping you from self organizing a workshop about anything you care about, an issue, a data set, a tool, and asking someone to teach you about and others to learn with you!
5. Go New School – Mobilize a Community to Request a Data Set
Many governments that have open data portals have a “request a data set” option on the page. What an opportunity. If there is a data set that would help bring transparency and accountability to your community… say around environmental pollution, local budget data, contracts and procurement data or arrest rates in a community then why not mobilize local non-profits, stakeholders and even citizens to mount a campaign to “make it open.”
A public campaign that notes the number of people who have “requested” a data set could apply pressure on a government to fulfill its promise to make more data sets open. More importantly, if might giver the community important data by which to challenge public policy or advocate for change.
6. Go Old School – Submit an Access to Information Request
Before there was open data there was… access to information requests. This slow, often cumbersome way of getting government information is critically important. This is because – in places where Access to Information laws exist – they are the only legally backed way to secure government information (and data).
Just learning how to do an access to information can be novel since so few ordinary citizens ever do one. But it many jurisdictions it is your right to be able to do so.
For activists and software developers who are particularly interested in this area of governance/law I encourage you to check out the Alaveteli project started by the amazing team at MySociety. It attempts to bring to add some #opengov tech to the Access to Information world.
I hope this are helpful ideas. More importantly, I hope wherever you are that you have an amazing time on open data day.
So… before there was access to information, there was
What’s in my yogurt
Would you like to know more?