I recently had the opportunity to speak with Bonnie Bogle of Development Seed regarding the upcoming OpenGovDC conference happening next Tuesday, June 14th. See what she had to say about open source trends in government, open data, and the much-abuzzed MapBox project.
How did OpenGovDC come about?
One of the things we and Phase2 Technology noticed working with federal clients is that there is a lot of excitement about open source all over government. We thought we could help stoke that while also providing a forum to break down the walls that have often existed between government agencies. Open source is by nature collaborative, and we want to help bring that spirit to the government.
What aspect of this conference are you most excited about?
The conversations. There is a great lineup of speakers from agencies like USAID, the White House, and the FCC, and leaders like the Sunlight Foundation, and beyond that there are just a lot of smart, experienced people attending. Sessions are geared to talking about real world implementations of open source in the government level, and we hope this will drive honest conversations around what has worked in government and what has bombed. It will also be interesting to hear the specific challenges there are in using open source in the government - like procurement - and what questions and concerns people have.
Your Week in DC Tech blog feature tracks tech events going on each week in Washington, DC. Have you noticed any trends you would like to share?
The DC technology scene is thriving. There's a meetup you could attend every day of the week, on everything from open data to different open source platforms to actual implementations in government, international development, and nonprofits. It's really exciting to see how much energy there is around technology in the city. I've been writing the "Week in DC Tech" blog posts for more than two years now, and it's interesting to me to see focuses shift. Topics like data and mapping can pack a house. For example, 400 people came out last night for the DC Tech Meetup to talk about big data. You see this with new open source platforms too. Node.js, for example, quickly went from being presented at a meetup to spawning its own regular meetup for user.
I see there is a segment at OpenGovDC about maps, and also one on using open data. As we saw at the NYC MapBox meetup a couple weeks ago, combining maps and open data can yield some pretty compelling visualizations. Any hints as to how Development Seed sees applications of this combo evolving in the next year or so?
Data is meant to be dynamic and browsable, not static. We want to throw out the standard of presenting data as tables in spreadsheets and screen shots of maps. With MapBox, we're able to produce interactive, custom visualizations of public data using all open source software. This makes open data much more actionable. Instead of realizing a feed of addresses and projects, why not offer the public a tileset of this information visualized on map? This means great communications wins too. Reports that were locked in print-formatted PDFs can now come alive on the web with interactive maps.
If there is one overarching concept into which attendees should expect to leave the conference with deeper insight, what would it be?
We want to show people what we've seen working in this space over the last few years. There are tons of cool open source projects going on across government, and lots of great opportunities for collaboration across agencies. We hope people will leave OpenGovDC inspired by what's possible, and what's actually been done by their peers, and with a great network of new friends in the space on whom they can call as them embark on their own open government projects.
What advice can you give an agency or other service provider hoping to become a part of the open government movement?
Start building. There is so much to be done. Take a look at Data.gov and see what feeds are available, and think of how that information can be put to use to solve a problem you seecollaborate . Think locally. A lot of what we've built has been based on DC's open data. It's really great to try to solve problems in your neighborhood just by finding creative applications of public information. Finally, start ideas. Find people in your region who are working on open government projects through Twitter or on blogs. Connect with them and on bigger projects. Figure out what problems you can solve together and tackle them. If you find problems with the data or need more information, demand it. The government agencies need good feedback from people using their data about what works and what doesn't.
Want more? Follow @MapBox, @bonnie, and @developmentseed on Twitter. If you're going to be in the DC area on Tuesday, there are still a few tickets left. At $45 for a full day of valuable content, you'd be crazy to miss it! While you're there, keep an eye out for Treehousers Joe Caccavano and Roger Lopez (aka zroger)!