OpenGov Voices: Building a Community of Data Professionals and Opening Government Data, One Meetup at a Time
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Sean Patrick Murphy and Harlan Harris wrote this post. Sean has served as a senior scientist at Johns Hopkins University for over a decade. When not doing research, he currently advises several startups and provides general data science and learning analytics consulting for EverFi. Follow him on Twitter (@SayHiToSean) or contact him at SayHiToSean@gmail.com. Harlan has a PhD in Computer Science (Machine Learning) from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and post-doctoral work in Cognitive Psychology at several universities. He currently is Senior Data Scientist at Kaplan Test Prep, and co-organizes Data Science DC. Follow him on Twitter (@HarlanH).
The greater National Capital Region (i.e. the DC metro area), has always had a wealth of technical talent, waist deep in data, calling the region home. Whether launching satellites at Goddard Space Center in Greenbelt to decrypting messages at the NSA, this region is literally littered with three (or more) letter organizations — NIH, JHU, DoD, DARPA, AOL, NIST, etc. — working extensively with data.
Despite this intense concentration of professionals who share this common bond, these groups exist in isolated silos preventing the open dissemination of knowledge and best practices that would accelerate progress across industries. A rising tide of data-expertise would indeed raise all ships.
Enter Data Community DC, Inc. (DC2). Formed in mid-2012 to promote data and statistical sciences in the Washington Metropolitan Area, this organization has swelled to over 2,000 over-educated members from across industries. We foster education, networking, and professional development through high-quality, community-driven events, content, resources, products, and services. Our goal is to create a truly open and welcoming community of people who produce, consume, analyze, and work with data — data scientists, analysts, economists, programmers, researchers, and statisticians, regardless of industry, sector, or technology.
To build a community, face time among members is crucial. We currently run three monthly Meetups covering key aspects of data. Data Science DC dives into discussions on diverse topics in predictive analytics, applied machine learning, statistical modeling, open data, and data visualization. Data Business DC focuses on creating social, financial, or environmental value from data. R Users DC shares knowledge about using the tools of the trade including R, SAS, Stata, Python, SQL and more.
We are also trialing the Mid-Maryland Data Science Meetup to expand geographically, and will launch a new Data Visualization DC Meetup, focused on best practices in data and statistical communication, in late February. Beyond our own Meetups, we also collate other data-related meetups for our members.
With our blog, we are creating a podium by which thought-leaders in this field can emerge from the relative technological silence of the national capital region. We focus on local authors creating leading articles, tutorials, editorials, and reviews. We also run several weekly features examining the best articles in data science and visualization and highlighting publicly available data sources. Our first DC Data Source Weekly highlighted data available to test recommendation algorithms with future posts diving into open government data.
Services and Community
DC2 operates the Data Events DC calendar, a curated calendar of relevant Meetups, conferences, hackathons, and workshops in the region. LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter are conduits to share information among community members.
Opening Up Government Data
The center of mass for this growing community of data professionals is conveniently the nation’s capital, seat of the federal government, one of the most data rich organizations in the world with an administration both eager and active to free its data. DC2 sees itself as a connector of markets. To do this, we are throwing as much against the wall as possible to see what sticks. Our DC Data Source Weekly blog post exposes available public data with the hopes a community member or three will create something brilliant with it. Data Business DC highlights companies and organizations productizing data every month including local efforts such as Fedalytics, which “unifies and analyzes political data from multiple sources into a clear and focused format.” At the DBDC January 2013 meetup, Paul McGowan, one of several speakers, led attendees through the vast opportunities possible through K-12 educational data that has become available. Our Data Events DC calendar, serves as a central calendar for hackathons, competitions, events, and other meetups.
By building a stronger and richer community of data practitioners and highlighting the vast treasure troves of available public data, we believe that citizens from across the region can make this city and this country better.
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