What happened at Open Data Day DC 2016?

Last weekend 150 open data enthusiasts gathered in Washington, DC, for Open Data Day DC, a yearly open data event on the same day as more than 200 similarly themed events around the world.

Our two-day event included not only a hackathon but also eight workshops and seven breakout groups covering both technology skills as well as pressing issues like criminal justice reform.

The workshops

We have had workshops at Open Data Day DC going back to 2013, but this year our workshops were the most ambitious.

As is our tradition, co-organizer Eric Mill ran his intro-to-open-data workshop for the fourth time. We added seven new workshop leaders to the mix:

Introduction to Open Data

Eric’s open data introduction was a technical overview of open data for newcomers to the space. He covered a JSON -> CSV converter that he made, the Sunlight Congress API, the OpenFDA API, the Digital Analytics Program, and Pulse. [slides, handout]

Visualizing DC’s Open Data

Kate Rabinowitz presented a high level overview of data visualization, using data about the District. She covered issues in data selection, data transformation, and visualization, and creating maps in CartoDB and data visualizations in Tableau. (slides) Kate runs a fantastic blog called DataLensDC.

Introduction to Data Science

Pri Oberoi and Star Ying — data scientists at the Department of Commerce — lead a hands-on tutorial of data science, including classification and modeling. (slides)

Opening DC’s Government

Sandra Moscoso-Mills, a long-time civic hacker here in DC, led a productive discussion about open government in our municipal government, covering topics from how the District government publishes open data to the Freedom of Information Act.

Open Mapping

Lauren Jacobson, a developer at Development Seed, lead an interactive workshop on creating maps using open data and open source tools. (slides)

Election-Year APIs

Lindsay Young led a brief overview of API basics, followed by an in-depth look at the FEC API — which she helped build at 18F— and some resources from Pro Publica and Open Secrets. (slides)

Introduction to the Command Line & Coding

The first hackathon Jessica Garson attended was our event two years ago. Last year she was a workshop helper during Aaron Schumacher’s data science workshop. This year she lead a workshop of her own, a hands-on tutorial to the “command line.” (slides)

Data Visualization with D3

Chris Given, a prolific data visualizer, lead a workshop on data visualization and took participants through a whirlwind reproduction of the famous Gap Minder using the D3 Javascript data visualization library. (notes)

The Breakouts

We ran seven small-group breakout sessions:

  • Albert Bowden and Damian Ortellado lead a session on criminal justice data, including data to empower returning citizens— that is, individuals returning from incarceration.
  • The health data breakout lead by Mark Silverberg discussed what data and APIs are available and where to find them and what types of problems open health data can help solve.
  • Kirsten Gullickson lead an exploration of how the U.S. Congress stores documents in data using XML — adding a digital layer on top of a centuries old law making process that still uses paper and parchment.
Kirsten Gullickson leading her breakout session.
  • Ben Klemens ran a tutorial on shell scripting at the command-line, for automated, replicable, and documented data analysis.
  • Carey Anne Nadeau adapted the “business model canvas“ to frame problem statement, define users, and think through steps for a sustainable, implementable hackathon project.
  • Ravi Kumar, who launched Code for Nepal at a previous Open Data Day DC, lead a discussion on the effective use of data by nonprofits. Horton’s Kids and DC Scores participated.
  • Derek Willis lead a discussion about election-year data. As Derek said at the breakout, “Don’t tell me what politics you believe, show me the data and I’ll tell you what you believe.” (I’m paraphrasing from memory here.)

Hackathon projects

While the workshops were going on, participants also worked on some great hackathon projects.

A visualization of DC high schools produced at the hackathon.

Connecting Education and Gentrification. This project, led by a local public school teacher Adam Engel, investigated what happens to the local schools when neighborhoods gentrify.

Emanuel Feld continued his ongoing work to document the DC Public Library’s Special Collections API.

Communicating the Value of Rare Earth Elements. This project, led by Sophia Liu, sought to connect consumers with information about the scare resources they rely on. The group produced data analyses and a game for consumers to learn about rare earth elements.

Analyzing DC voters. Led by Ursula Kaczmarek, this team investigated the factors that contribute to whether voters will participate in early voting, producing insights that could help the DC government better position early voting centers.

Harlan Harris and Ursula Kaczmarek, presenting their team’s work on early voting.

Visualizing the relationship between public resources and health. Dave Lehr led a project to use demographic data to better understand the local health issues facing hospitals. The team produced this viz:

Developing a Nutrition Facts Scanner for the Capital Area Food Bank. This DataKind DC project, led by Elaine Ayo and Sid Kulkarni, has been working to develop a mobile app to aid food bank workers who must classify donated goods:

Thao Pham plans the user experience of the app.

Mark Silverberg led a project on opioid over use and prescription using CT & CMS data.

Darron Fuller led a project on connecting the underemployed with job opportunities.

Roshan Thapaliya, Saurav Keshari Aryal, and Susan Bhattarai, computer science majors at Howard University, led a project on visualizing price per square foot for housing across the United States.

Our goals for the event

When Eric, Julia, Kat, Sam, and I sat down to begin planning this event seven months ago, we outlined our goals:

  • Empowering individuals, and making sure they feel empowered.
  • Making the open data community more tight-knit.
  • Running an event in the spirit of open data, with equitable access for all, and running the event transparently.
  • Having something for everyone and being welcoming to newcomers.
  • Showing impact, connecting projects to real world issues, and emphasizing that project work is iterative and continues beyond the event.

And in the spirit of transparency, we are publishing our own budget for the event:

(Sorry it’s not selectable. Medium doesn’t have a way to make a nice table except as an image.)

All of the photos I took at the event are on flickr.

To run your own open data day or technology hackathon, see my how-to guide at https://hackathon.guide/.


Open Data Day DC 2016, which was March 4–5, 2016, was organized by myself, Eric Mill, Julia Bezgacheva, Katherine Townsend, and Sam Lee, and our fiscal sponsor and partner Data Foundation, with the support of our other sponsors, Socrata, Fastcase, Sunlight Foundation, Chief, and Amazon Web Services, and contributions from attendees. It was the fifth year of Open Data Day DC.