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National Day of Civic Hacking 2013

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This past weekend, over 11,000 individuals connected under the helm of the National Day of Civic Hacking (NDoCH) -- a series of local #HackForChange hackathons, unconferences, and meeting of the minds that engaged local communities with open data, code, and tech.

From what we can tell, the NDoCH events were magnetic, drawing together participation from local (and traveling) developers, government officials (including a few mayors!), community leaders, and even 21 federal agencies. The vibe of this national organization not only encouraged a sort of: "If you can't hack with the city you reside in, hack with the one you're physically located in," but also further encouraged cross-pollination of civic applications from community to community (For more highlights from the national scene, check out this Storify feed.) Although Sunlight wasn’t able to attend every one of the 95 events held this past weekend, the events we did attend taught us quite a bit. Below, we’ve rounded up our reflections, recaps, and geeky highlights from the festivities in Baltimore, DC, Montgomery County, North Carolina, and Western Massachusetts.

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Unveiling Sunlight Open Gov Events

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If you have been to any of our TransparencyCamp unconferences, the popular Labs Open House or happy hour then you know that we organize great events. And just as much as you support our events, we equally enjoy supporting other events -- especially when they involve bringing together a bunch of geeks like us who love cracking open code and making our government more transparent and open.

In that light, we are casting the net further by reviving our events platform to get you talking about your own event and assist you with sponsorship needs. For an idea about the kind of events that we are looking to engage in, here are a few that we have been a part of, so far:

Types of events we consider for sponsorship:

  • Hackathons
  • Tech Meetups
  • Tech Bar Camps
  • Datafests
  • CityCamps
  • Small tech conferences
  • Tech Happy hours
DSC_0058 DSC00811 Top Idea

Photos credit: Paul Schreiber, Howard Dy, dtraleigh.

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CityCamp Colorado – Bringing Innovation to Life

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the guest blogger and those providing comments are theirs alone and do not reflect the opinions of the Sunlight Foundation or any employee thereof. Sunlight Foundation is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information within the guest blog. Scott Primeau is a board member of OpenColorado, a nonprofit organization established in 2009 to promote government transparency and citizen participation. Scott has also been an employee for a Colorado state agency since 2003. He provides project management, policy research and analysis, and customer engagement services. Scott has a bachelor’s degree in public affairs management from Indiana University and is a passionate supporter of improving citizen participation and government collaboration. You can contact him at scott.primeau@opencolorado.org. The third annual CityCamp Colorado took place on October 26, 2012. Almost 140 people attended the event, making it the largest gathering of open government advocates ever in Colorado. The attendees and presenters include city CIOs and IT staff, senior city leaders, Colorado state IT leaders, private enterprises and startups, nonprofits, elected officials and citizens.

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Elena’s Inbox: How Not to Release Data

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screenshot of elenasinbox.com

On Friday @BobBrigham tweeted a suggestion: put the just-released Elena Kagan email dump into a GMail-style interface. I thought this was a pretty cool idea, so I started hacking away at it over the weekend. You can see the finished results at elenasinbox.com.

I'm really pleased that people have found the site useful and interesting, but the truth is that a lot of the emails in the system are garbage: they're badly-formatted, duplicative or missing information. For instance, one of the most-visited pages on the site is the thread with the subject "Two G-rated Jewish jokes" -- understandably, given that it's the most potentially-scandalous-sounding subject line on the first page of results. Unfortunately, if you click through you'll see that there's no content in the messages.

The site was admittedly a bit rushed, but in this case it isn't the code that's to blame. If you go through the source PDF, you'll see that the content is missing there, too. It looks like it might have been redacted, but the format of the document is confusing enough that it's difficult to be sure.

But the source documents' problems go beyond ambiguous formatting. A lot of the junky content on the site comes from the junk it was built from -- there's not much we can do about it. To give you some idea of the problem, consider these strings:

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Government Data Sets – Managing Expectations

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US Open Government plans were released today. As part of this process, federal agencies are beginning to release data sets publicly in ways they never have before. Some substantial and thought-provoking blog posts over the last few weeks have discussed how government can do open data well.

There are significant cultural and social sticking points that have yet to be addressed in releasing data openly. A discussion with a colleague from NASA last week confirmed how far away most agencies are from the luxury of considering the innovative ideas for data set management available to them. Here's why:

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Free yourself from the Shackles of “High Value Data”

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"High Value Datasets" is a bunk term.

When the feds introduced the term High Value Data, my immediate response here was "what the heck is 'High Value Data'?!" We quickly extracted the definition from the Open Government Directive and here it is:

"High-value information is information that can be used to increase agency accountability and responsiveness; improve public knowledge of the agency and its operations; further the core mission of the agency; create economic opportunity; or respond to need and demand as identified through public consultation."

Now we've had a chance to go through and take a look at some of the datasets. Our http://reporting.sunlightfoundation.com is having a field day analyzing the data, pointing out flaws in the data and generally doing a great job of figuring out what's actually new in the datasets.

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