Over 200 people gathered for CityCamp NC this year that included 10 lightning talks, 4 keynote speakers, a public sector CIO panel dubbed the “4 amigos,” an unconference, and the NC DataJam hackathon. There was a lot that happened in just over two-and-a-half days. If you were able to join us, you know how amazing it was. If you weren’t there, then hopefully this recap will offer some insights on what’s happening in the civic tech scene here in NC.
My first big take-away was the diversity at CityCamp NC. Not only were the speakers and topics diverse, our audience was diverse, thoughtful, and participatory. Roughly half our audience were government employees including a few elected officials. We had students from high schools and colleges attend and present their ideas for improving our communities.
My second big take-away was noticeable during the hackathon. I walked in at one point after the first round of pitches and the energy in the room was amazing. Teams were collaborating, problem solving, and working side-by-side with government workers. As I thought about the value civic hacking events like CityCamp NC create, it’s ultimately about creating a safe environment for citizens to come together to solve their own problems.
My third big take-away is the our keynote speaker, Jen Pahlka, Founder and Executive Director, Code for America was eagerly seeking feedback from the NC civic hacking community. Yes, Jen came and delivered an amazing keynote telling about some of the success stories from Code for America, but she also shared some of the challenges. Jen came prepared to listen and participate, not just tell us her thoughts. For me, this is one of the ultimate signs of a great leader and I’m really glad Jen was able to attend, participate, and get the feedback she was looking for.
Magic happens at the Unconference
There were almost 30 pitches from attendees for the unconference portion of the event. This is where participants create the agenda for 20 different sessions. Anyone who wants to suggest a session gets a 60-second pitch on the main stage to share their topics. After a round of voting, organizers create the schedule for the afternoon based on participant feedback.
The results? We end up with a schedule usually referred to as “the grid.” We had five simultaneous sessions going on between 1:00 pm and 5:00 pm, changing every hour. Participants practice the law of two feet–meaning if they are in a session and it’s not what they expect, they can quietly get up from their seat and go to another session, or perhaps visit the hallway track.
Jen Pahlka hosted a lively session about sustainable civic tech that we married with another pitch from participant Sam McClenney. Other unconference sessions included an open data 101 class, an introduction to GitHub, carpool voting, Greenstem IoT and sensors, and many more. See the full list of unconference sessions that were hosted at CityCamp NC.
The beauty of the unconference is that people gravitate to what they are interested in. The scary part for the organizers is that you never know what you’re going to get. I often describe someone’s first unconference experience as organized chaos. And it’s always great to see that magic moment in the eyes of new participants that not only are they able to shape the conversation, but they are part of a movement.
NC DataJam: The open data hackathon
Ten teams pitched open data project ideas at NC DataJam for a chance to win the $1,000 first-place prize and a $500 award for best use of ESRI technology. Ideas ranged from getting citizens easy access to candidate details and voting information to improving accessibility to restaurant health violation information. Last years winners, 11-year old Gavin Clark and father Will Clark, were back in action with a project called Kids Transit that would help students organize walking groups to school along the safest and most efficient route.
New this year for CityCamp NC was a partnership with NC Datapalooza. NC DataJam is the kickoff to the NC Datapalooza open data competition and hackathon. The competition started on Saturday, September 24 at 10:00am as individuals pitched project ideas and persuaded people to join their team. Those teams gave 5-minute presentations later that afternoon to a panel of judges that included:
- Jay Dawkins, CEO at Cityzen
- Lou Anne Flanders-Stec, VP of Entrepreneurship at Greensboro Partnership Entrepreneur Connection
- Shannon Baumman, VP of Products at Pendo
- Suja Thomas, Ph.D., Lead Data Scientist at Wedpics
- Stewart Rouse, SDK Support Analyst at Esri
Teams were not required to have a fully baked project at this point in the NC Datapalooza competition and the projects were judged on their use of open data, impact of their project, their business plan, and the progress and execution from their time at the hackathon.
The winning team advanced NC Food Inspector
A team lead by Wake County Information Services (IS) department with their NC Food Inspector project came away with the first place prize money. “Wake County is very interested in expanding the use of NC Food Inspector and adding new features and data. This weekend validated our assumptions that this is important to the community’” said Bill Scanlon, NC Food Inspector team lead and Solutions Development Wake County IS.
Scanlon added, “In a few short hours, we partnered with members of our community, and others, to add Wake County data to the existing app, developed a new design to reflect CDC Risk Factors based on health inspection results, and laid out our path towards developing our Minimum Viable Product (MVP) based on the strong foundation developed by Code for Durham. Winning the NC DataJam was a great milestone and we look forward to continuing the project throughout the rest of the NC Datapalooza competition.”
A team made up of entirely Girl Develop It RDU members worked on the Wake Forest NC Open Data project. They collected existing open data from the Town of Wake Forest and created a hub for citizens at http://data.wfod.opendata.arcgis.com/ since there is no official open data portal from officials. They won the best use of ESRI technology prize.
NC Open Pass continues at NC Datapalooza
All teams remain eligible the NC Datapolooza final competition. Submissions are open until October 14 for additional teams to participate. The All Things Open conference will host the NC Datapalooza Team Pitch Competition on October 27 before the finale and demo day on November 14 hosted at Red Hat.
Team submissions for NC Datapalooza are open until October 14.
This was my sixth year helping to plan and organize a CityCamp event in Raleigh. What started out as CityCamp Raleigh for the first two years in 2011 and 2012 evolved into CityCamp NC to help us advance the civic hacking movement to the entire state. With more and more Code for America brigades being established across the state, there are now brigades in Asheville, Cary, Charlotte, Durham, Greensboro, Raleigh, and Winston-Salem. There are opportunities and momentum to see brigades in places like Chapel Hill and Wilmington. So if there are leaders out there that have even an inkling of an idea to start something, we would encourage you to do so. The brigade community in NC is here to help.
Overall, this was probably one of best CityCamp NC events yet. I was really impressed with the diversity and I’m really encouraged by some of the projects people were working on. If you want to continue to participate join your local brigades and visit citycampnc.org for updates.