Transit data as open government fuel for economic growth

Transportation Camp Big Board

At the Big Board at Transportation Camp NYC. Credit: Transportation Camp

Today in New York City, the attendees of TransportationCamp will look for ways to build a better to and fro. Technologists, trains fans, government workers and East Coast civic hackers have gathered for a sold out two-day unconference at the New York Law School Institute for Information Law and Policy. TransportationCamp East.

They’ve come together to discuss how the modern transit system can be improved, focusing on the intersection between technology, citizens, public data and government. Around the United States, there has been a blossoming of innovation in the city transit sector, driven by the passion of citizens and fueled by the release of real-time transit data by their city governments. These efforts have a long way to go, given challenges of driving interoperability standards to address the break of gauge. As open government moves from theory to practice, what lies ahead for Gov 2.0 will include more innovation in opening transit data as a platform for civic innovation.

In many cities, the future of open transit data is already around us, but the promise has yet to be fully realized. The case for open data in transit is made in the video below:

A Case for Open Data in Transit from Streetfilms on Vimeo.

An “open data project that I’m fond of that started very early in the open government process is GTFS, the General Transit Feed Specification,” said Tim O’Reilly.

That’s the data standard that lets transit districts feed their bus and train arrival times to applications like Google Transit, or any of the many smartphone apps that help you plan your trip on public transit. This standard started as a collaboration between Google and the city of Portland, but is now available from many cities. It’s a great example of how governments can think like platform providers. They have to equip their buses and trains with GPS, and report out the data. They could report it just to their own bus stops and train stations, or they could make it available to third parties to deliver in a hundred ways. Which is better for citizens? It’s pretty obvious.”

For passionate civic advocates like Laurel Ruma, a colleague at O’Reilly Media, getting real-time transit data in Boston was better than winning the World Series. (That might have been a harder sell in 2003, but table that for now). The decision to release and support open transit data online has spawned a new ecosystem of mobile applications, many of which are featured at The addition of real-time transit data could add more value to the apps offering help for MBTA riders that went online in 2009, like the Mass Transit app that has been making money for SparkFish Creative.

It’s that kind of economic value creation combined with civic utility and accountability that has many people in the open government community excited. “Transportation has been a breakout segment of the “Gov 2.0” space over the last several years — it’s an issue with direct impacts on every citizen, and an area where we are seeing tons of innovation right now,” said Nick Grossman, director of civic works at OpenPlans. “Agencies are re-thinking their tech and data strategies, entrepreneurs and “civic hackers” are building tools at a furious rate, and the public is benefiting in tangible ways. We are excited to bring together many of the players in the space for two weekends of discussing, debating, and building at TransportationCamp.”

The unconference organizers posted the”>discussion topics online before Transportation Camp kicked off, so virtual onlookers and on-site participants alike can get a flavor of interests that range from walking to to cycling to ride sharing. (No evidence of transit via horse, mule nor camel is to be found, no doubt because of the changing face of New York City versus their utility).

“We are honored to be partnering with former White House deputy CTO for open government Beth Noveck and the Do Tank & Democracy Design Workshop at New York Law School, said Grossman. “Beth’s and the Do Tank’s work has been an inspiration for all forms of collaborative work around civic issues, governance, and democracy.”

TransportationCamp West will be in San Francisco March 19-20. Both of the unconferences are sponsored by NYC-based nonprofit OpenPlans. ”

“TransportationCamp is all about building connections across a widespread sector, from public officials, to software developers, to academics, to urban advocates and interested citizens,” said Grossman. “We hope to not only address some immediate issues (such as working on technical data standards), but also plant the seed for longer-term partnerships.”

Luke Fretwell captured an extensive Q&A with Grossman, were he talks more about TransportationCamp’s objectives and transportation’s impact on the bigger issues around Gov 2.0 and open government.

Follow @transpocamp and the #transpo hashtag on Twitter today and over the coming weeks to watch the discussion data unfold in real-time.

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Frank Hebert posted a recap of Saturday morning at Transportation Camp at the camp blog.

Civic coders for America gather in DC for a Presidents’ Day datacamp

This past weekend, civic developers gathered at a Seattle data camp to code for America. This Presidents’ Day, the day before George Washington’s Birthday, dozens of government technologists, data nerds, civic hackers and citizens from around the District of Columbia, Virginia and Maryland will join Code for America fellows for a datacamp at Big Window Labs.

The attendees of the Washington datacamp can look to the Seattle Data Camp for inspiration. The civic hacktivism on display there led to engaged discussions about Seattle’s South Park neighborhoodmobile damage assessment appstransit apps, mobile / geolocation appsdata mininginformation visualization.

Perhaps even more impressive, one of those discussions lead to the creation of a new smartphone application. Hear Near pushes alerts about Seattle events nearby to iPhone or Android device users using text messages. Hear Near is now available from iTunes and Android.

Joe McCarthy published a terrific post about Data Camp Seattle that offers a great deal of insight into why the event worked well. McCarthy helped the HearNear team by identifying and defining mappings between the GeoLoqi API and the iCal feed.

McCarthy describes how a creative discussion amongst talented, civic-minded people enabled them to donate their skills to putting the open data from Seattle’s data repository to work for its citizens. He also explored what inspires him about Code for America:

I wasn’t sure what to expect going into the event, but was greatly impressed with the interactions, overall experience and outcomes at Data Camp Seattle. I’ve admired the Code for America project since first learning about it, and have been a proponent of open data and platform thinking (and doing) on my blog. It was inspiring and empowering to have an opportunity to do more than simply blog about these topics … though I recognize the potential irony of writing that statement in a new blog post about these topics.

I suspect that one of the most durable outcomes of the Code for America project will be this kind of projection or radiation of civic empowerment through – and beyond – the efforts of the CfA fellows and their collaboration partners. In The Wealth of Networks, Yochai Benkler writes about how “[t]he practice of producing culture makes us all more sophisticated readers, viewers, and listeners, as well as more engaged makers”. In Program or Be Programmed, Doug Rushkoff warns against “relinquishing our nascent collective agency” to computers and the people who program them by engaging in “a renaissance of human capacity” by becoming programmers ourselves.

While many – or even most – of the specific applications we designed and developed during the Data Camp Seattle civic hackathon may not gain widespread traction and use, if the experience helps more of us shift our thinking – and doing – toward becoming co-creators of civic applications – and civic engagement – then the Code for America project will have succeeded in achieving some grand goals indeed.

This example of directed action at an unconference has fast become the next step in the evolution of camps, where a diverse set of volunteers come together to donate more than money or blood: they exchange information and then apply their skills to creating solutions to the needs defined by a given set of societal challenges.

This model of directed civic involvement has became a global phenomenon in wake of the crisiscamps that sprung up after the earthquake in Haiti last year. The cultural DNA of these camps has evolved into CrisisCommons, which has acted as platform for volunteers to donate their skills to help in natural disasters and other crises.

As the role of the Internet as a platform for collective action grows, those volunteers are gaining more ability to make a difference using powerful lightweight collaboration tecnology and open source data tools.

From the towns of the United States to cities in Denmark, Brazil, Kenya, Illinois and India, people interested in local Gov 2.0 have been gathering to to create applications that use open public data. In December, Around the world, the International Open Data Hackathon convened participants in over 56 cities in 26 countries on 5 continents.

As Seattle CIO Bill Schrier put it this past weekend, they’re turning data into information. Federal CTO Aneesh Chopra has praised these kinds of efforts “hacking for humanity.” An event like Random Hacks of Kindness “brings together the sustainable development, disaster risk management, and software developer communities to solve real-world problems with technology.”

On President’s Day, another datacamp will try to put that vision into action. //

3 words from the Tech@State unconference

On Friday, the fifth Tech@State conference at the United States Department at State focused on the role of open source in government, industry and society. Today, there is a Tech@State unconference on open source at the National Democratic Institute. In keeping with the tradition of an unconference – sometimes called a barcamp – the day kicked off with a introduction where every attendee shared his or her name, affiliation and three words that describe who they are, what they care about, what they’ve come to learn or what they do. Or all three. Below is a wordle that shows the frequency of words used.

The schedule for the Tech@State unconference is evolving at It bids to be an interesting day.

2011 Gov 2.0 and Open Government Events Calendar

Tomorrow, another great Tech@State event kicks off at the State Department in Washington, D.C. In New York City, the city’s first chief digital officer, will put on the capstone on Social Media Week at an open government forum. Out in Los Angeles, people will gather at KPCC for a digital diplomacy forum. It will be a busy Friday but these three events are only a few coming up that sit in the intersection of technology, citizens and government coming up this year.

As J.D. Lasica reported in his comprehensive Socialbrite list of 2011 social media, tech marketing conferences, there won’t be a Gov 2.0 Expo. (For an explanation of why O’Reilly won’t be doing the Expo this year, visit Quora.) There will, however be many other places for people to gather, talk and learn about Gov 2.0 in 2011 — just take a look through the many Govloop event listings. For a broader selection, Socialbrite has a terrific calendar of calendar of 2011 nonprofit conferences.

There will be any number of citizen-generated unconferences around the world in 2011, where the attendees generate the program. They’ll include CityCamps, BarCamps, PodCamps or MobileCamps. Check out the CityCamp calendar to find one near you and keep an eye out for CityCamp meetups in February.

The following listings are by no means comprehensive but should serve as a starting point if you’re wondering what’s happening, when and where. If you know about more Gov 2.0 events that should be listed here, please let me know at or @digiphile.

Gov 2.0 LA

This Los Angeles conference brings a “West Coast” sensibility to the Gov 2.0 conversation, with a particular emphasis on social media and speakers from the diplomatic, marketing and consulting worlds. For a sense of what the 2010 event held, read On Language: Government 2.0 jargon and technology or a history lesson in disruptive innovation applied to modern government at Gov 2.0 LA.



February 13, Boston, MA
February 19, Seattle, WA
Philadelphia and DC TBD.

Code for America is hosting a set of “data camps” in its host cities this winter. Here’s why: “City governments have a lot of information which is useful to all of us. This ranges from maps of local parks to building footprints to real-time 911 calls. We all have an interest in our budget information, legistlative documents and other resources that we use in collective decision-making and deliberation. Not all of this information is currently available for all cities, even though much of it is public record. The “Open Data” movement is a way to work on getting information into machine-readable formats, allowing for easy publishing, sharing, and reuse. We’re hosting DataCamps in CfA’s cities this year to build communities around making city data more open and accessible to allow citizens to help cities work better. DataCamp is a event focusing on skill-building and collaborative work on city data. It is an opportunity for interested parties in a city to work together, and build a network of people with shared interested in improving civic communications and information management.”

Website: Code for America datacamps

2011 Computer-Assisted Reporting Conference

Feb. 24 to 27, 2011 — Raleigh, N.C.
Data journalism is a key component of the Gov 2.0 world. If government releases data, data journalism must evolve to validate, analyze and tell stories with it.


Social Media for Government Conference

February 14-17, 2011
Social media is but one component of Gov 2.0, alongside open data, collective intelligence or a rethinking of how services are provided, but it’s clear that it’s important.


Intelligent Cities Meetup

February 23rd, Washington, DC
“Intelligent Cities, a National Building Museum initiative, supported by its partners TIME and IBM and funded by The Rockefeller Foundation, explores the intersection of IT and urban design to understand where we are, where we want to be, and how to get there.” Meetups are planned for San Francisco, NYC and Chicago.


Transportation Camp

March 5-6, NYC, New York
March 19-20, San Francisco, CA
TransportationCamp is a new unconference about transportation and technology.


South by Southwest Interactive Festival

March 10-15, Austin, Texas
This year’s SXSWi will include many sessions that fall under the umbrella of Gov 2.0, including government officials talking about open government, citizens talking about new apps or platforms, and new services or applications that will be relevant to both. Here’s just a sampling.


2011 Web and New Media Conference

March 17–18, 2011, Washington, DC
This conference is for government new media managers and webmasters, many of whom are wearing both hats in 2011. It’s proven to be an excellent networking and educational forum.


Web 2.0 Expo

March 28-31, San Francisco, CA
October 10-13, NYC, NY
There are many lessons for Gov 2.0 from Web 2.0, including the power of platforms to catalyze innovation, investment and more agile government.


NASA Open Source Summit

March 29-30, Mountain View California

From the organizers: “On March 29 & 30, NASA will host its first Open Source Summit at Ames Research Center in Mountain View California. This event will bring together engineers and policy makers across NASA and respected members of the open source community to discuss the challenges with the existing open source policy framework, and propose modifications that would make it easier for NASA to develop, release, and use open source software.”

Website: NASA Open Source Summit

Media Access to Government Information Conference (MAGIC)

April 12, National Archives, Washington, D.C.

From the organizers: “MAGIC is a collaborative, one-day conference sponsored by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and Duke University’s DeWitt Wallace Center for Media and Democracy that will:

  • Explore obstacles and opportunities for access to government information by journalists and others writing about public affairs in the digital age;
  • Include government officials, reporters, scholars, and Non Government Organization (NGO) leaders who can contribute insights into how journalists can better discover, access, and use digital government information; and
  • Inform government professionals about the use of technology to provide better access to government information

The conference is free and open to the public, though registration is required. Breakfast, lunch, and refreshments are included. The conference sessions will be videotaped and made available for viewing at a later date. For more information, please contact”

Website: MAGIC

Mobile Citizen Summit

April 16, Washington, D.C.

From the organizers: “You have heard the word, mobile is the new hot thing. You have convinced your management to start using mobile, but how do you actually use mobile to engage citizens and create impact? The Mobile Citizen Summit is a one-day learning laboratory for those interested in applying mobile technologies to empower, fuel and drive citizen engagement in the public good. Our focus is on providing you with informative and practical discussions.”

Website: Mobile Citizen Summit

Transparency Camp

April 30-May 1, Washington, DC
The 2010 Transparency Camp delved into open data, coffee, open government, culture and yes, transparency. Look for more of the same.


Open Government and Innovations Conference

Likely in May 2011, Washington, DC
Applied uses of platforms, social media, culture change and more, all relevant transparency and open government


Gov 2.0a

May 6-7, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

From the organizers: “The second annual Gov 2.0a conference is focused on applications of technology to government problems. The conference will be a forum to learn about successful Gov 2.0 applications through case studies, to learn about best practices for Gov 2.0 applications, and to network with other professionals from city and state organizations, community groups, non-profits and the private sector who share interest in the application of technology to improve the functioning of our government.”


Fedtalks Open Government Summit

May 11, Washington, D.C.

From the organizers: “FedScoop’s Open Government & Citizen Engagement Summit, part of the FedTalks event series, will bring together leading federal government and industry experts to discuss the state of open government and tech solutions to better engage citizens.”


OpenGov West

May 13-14, Portland, OR
Open government and Gov 2.0 community leaders, public officials, citizens and technologists from all over the West Coast.


Local Open Government Summits

May 13-22, 2011, 35+ cities
In 2011, there will be a host of other camps too, as readers will find below, and a new initiative: local open government innovation summits. According to the organizers, “The summits’ overarching objective is to gather citizens and local government staff together in dialogue for knowledge-sharing and relationship-building. It is not necessary to include action planning, identification of next steps, or decision-making into your local summit. A successful outcome is raising awareness of local gov officials that they are not alone as they implement open government programs and that they can access the expertise of the broader open government community. The target is 50+ local summits across the US and internationally.”


OpenGov Camp

June 4-5, NYC

From the organizers: “OpenGov Camp is a one day conversation on how participation builds transparency to deliver efficiency. We are a community of doers and decision-makers talking about what works—and what doesn’t. Whether you are a developer, journalist, activist, organizer or government employee, you should attend. For one day, we ask you three questions:

  • Where is “local” Open Government going?
  • How can we deepen the knowledge of what Open Government can be?
  • What are the social and technical tools affecting Open Government’s development?”

Website OpenGovNYC

Personal Democracy Forum

June 6-7, New York City, NY
This world-class conference exploring and analyzing technology’s impact on politics and government is back for the 8th year in New York City.


OSCON 2011

July 25-29, 2011, Portland, OR
The O’Reilly Open Source Convention is the crossroads of all things open source. Open source plays an increasingly important role in government. The processes involved in open source itself have served as a model for open government.


Supernova Hub

Likely in July 2011 in Philadelphia, PA (Unconfirmed)
Technologists, entrepreneurs, business executives, investors, and policy-makers have come to Supernova for strategic insights on our increasingly interconnected world


Strata NYC

September 19-21, NYC, NY
To say that big data is a big deal for government is an obvious understatement. Government, after all, has extraordinary amount of data, with much more becoming available as open data initiatives move forward. The first Strata Conference in February 2011 was a sold-out hit. Strata NYC will pull together global leaders in big data in the Big Apple.


Fedtalks 2011

October 12th, Washington, DC

Open government went to the theater at the first Fedtalks. In 2011, look for more federal government and industry experts to discuss the state of innovation in government.



October 2011, Portland, OR
If 2010 was a year where open government moved “beyond plans to practice,” by late 2011 there should be many more case studies of implementation. GOSCON – the government open source conference – will feature discussions and presentations about how government leaders, innovators and smart operations are using open source.


Digital Capital Week

November 4 – November 11, Washington, DC

Last year, the inaugural Digital Capital Week showcased tech innovation in Washington. The 2011 version of Digital Capital Week bids to be even bigger.

Web 2.0 Summit

November 15-17, San Francisco
This event brings together business leaders, big thinkers, and innovative technologists who are shaping the future of the Web. In 2011, it’s clear that the shape of that future matters for government and citizens alike.