What we’re looking forward to at 2018’s Code for America Summit


Sunlight’s Open Cities team is headed out to Oakland, CA this week for the 2018 Code for America Summit. It’s an annual gathering of the community of people working on how technology can improve government services. We’re looking forward to seeing old friends and colleagues, meeting new ones, learning innovative ideas, and sharing what we’ve been working on.

If you are working on open government or open data in your city and are coming to the Summit, we want to talk to you! Please say hello — we are friendly and would love to learn about your work.

We’re also looking forward to learning new ideas and hearing from some of the leaders in this field. In particular, here’s what our team members are excited about and looking forward to:

Noel: I’m looking forward to the workshops about demystifying Data Science and Data Sharing. A big part of our work is taking away the mystery of data and explaining things in non-data terms. Another major component of it is facilitating the exchange of data between government and community groups and researchers. These exchanges contribute to information ecosystems and the more people we can get involved in that, the better the overall pool of data available in communities.

Katya: Open data has always been big part of what I love about to hear about at the Code for America Summit. This year, I’m excited to hear about how local government staff from around the country are going beyond publishing open data, and using open data as a tool to support and address the challenges facing their communities. I’m interested in hearing about how cities and civic technologists alike have succeeded in bringing non-technical, non-government everyday citizens into conversations about transparency, open government, and data-informed decision-making. To that end, I’m also interested in hearing about how cities and technologists are setting the foundation for transparency and community-driven discussion of emerging technologies including sensor technology and artificial intelligence. I know blockchain enthusiasts are out there — what are folks doing to empower communities and improve the way we engage with government?

Greg: I’m a member of both the Sunlight Open Cities team and Code for DC, so I’m excited for the chance to connect (and reconnect) with Code for America brigade leaders from across the country.

One thing I’ve noticed over time is that we face a lot of similar questions and challenges: How can we make open data and open government work in small and mid-sized cities, not just big ones? How can we get non-technical people involved? How can we ensure inclusivity? How can governments and community organizations partner together in this space? Especially as the Open Cities team pivots toward focusing on facilitating community use of open data, connections between our work and local civic-tech organizations are essential.

Stephen: I’m looking forward to the sessions and discussions that center on how people and data can result in better, more community-responsive policy. We in open government have long envisioned a future where open data empowers citizens not just to reuse city data for research or informational purposes, but in a way that, like Prometheus’s fire, truly distributes power and agency more democratically. However, open data has rarely empowered people to directly influence public policy decisions in this way and the residents and other stakeholders most impacted by policy are rarely a part of the lawmaking process. I’m excited to learn from leaders who have been working on both of these issues.

In California, Policy Club, a small group of volunteers, are using open data to analyze the impacts of proposed changes in local zoning codes, giving them power and influence over this critical policy conversation. I’m excited to learn more about this work and think through how more community groups can strengthen their policy advocacy through use of open data.

Others are exploring how to proactively put people at the center of policy by rethinking the policy design process. Leaders at the U.S. Digital Service have been applying user-research not just to software, but to lawmaking, something we at the open cities team have advocated for in our approach to open data crowdlaw. From our work on crowdlaw, we know that encouraging community members to contribute to the lawmaking process can result in better policy and in a public that is more engaged in holding government accountable for implementation. However, we also know that participation isn’t a given and you have to go out and understand policy impact and meet stakeholders where they are. Proactive human-centered research can result in key insights that can inform policy decisions and ultimately bring about more representative and accountable governance.

Ultimately, I’m excited to work toward a future where tools and analysis to better understand public policy and its potential impacts (like the work of Policy Club) can be utilized by policy stakeholders during the a people-centered policy research process. When we combine these approaches policy can be both empirically data-driven and democratically people-centered.

Alex: I’m looking forward to learning about ways cities are making innovation last for the long-term. I’m interested to hear how civic technologists are building relationships and collaborations with city staff as well as community groups working on inclusive change. In particular, I’ll be interested to join the Deliberate Community Building session to learn about engagement, community empowerment, and the role of storytelling.

Finally, Sunlight is currently in the process of reviewing our history as well as looking ahead, and thinking about how to build a more inclusive community around our work making government more open, digital, and participatory. Democracy is a collaborative effort and to make cities or government at any level more inclusive we have to start with the culture right in front of us. If you have ideas about how we can do this together, we’re excited to have those conversations as well.

We’re looking forward to three days of open data, the best in tech, and better government for everyone. See you out there!

Top: A mural by Christian Obermans at 5662 Shattuck Ave. in Oakland. Photo by William Newton via Flickr.