Code for Miami meeting at The LAB Miami, December 2015. Photo credit: Rebekah Monson

The Year in Review for Miami Civic Tech (2015)

2015 was the profound year for civic technology in Miami-Dade County. Code for Miami, the group of volunteers led by co-captains Rebekah Monson and Cristina Solana continued meeting every week to improve the life of Miami residents through technology. We also saw a Fellowship program with Code for America as well as movement from both the public and private sector.

Here’s a look back at this year, and what lies ahead for the future:

2015: the year the CFA Fellows came to town

2015 CFA Miami-Dade Fellows Mathias Gibson, Ernie Hsiung and Sophia Dengo. (L-R)

2015 marked the year a Code for America Fellowship was hosted in Miami-Dade County, the first to be hosted in Florida in its five year history. Sophia Dengo, Mathias Gibson and Code for Miami founder Ernie Hsiung worked with Michael Sarasti of the Miami-Dade County Communications Department and Christa Erml-Martinez of the Regulatory Economic Resources Department to build a digital feedback platform to speed up feedback loops and encourage civic engagement at the county Permitting Inspection Center (PIC).

You can view the Miami-Dade Fellows Year End Report as a Google Presentation or you can see Ernie and Mike’s presentation at the CFA Summit this past September in Oakland, California:

Why yes, we did use an image from The Golden Girls as part of our presentation.

Marching forward towards open data

The Code for Miami brigade started efforts to publicize the need for open data through MiamiOpenData. Working collaboratively with the Miami-Dade Communications Department, the Miami-Dade Fellows and Code for Miami helped release building permit data sets through the county’s brand new open data portal, allowing academics, journalists and local businesses such as ePermitHub to publish their own permit related projects such as OpenPermit, a recipient of the Knight Prototype Fund.

Miami-Dade County Commissioner Daniella Levine-Cava sponsored an open data resolution which was passed in the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners this October, helping to move forward what could be the first Open Data Policy in South Florida.

Deep diving into sea level rise

The Sea Level Rise Toolbox, developed by a Florida International University School of Journalism and Mass Communication team led in part by professor Susan Jacobson in conjunction with Code for Miami, was mentioned in an article in The New Yorker and by several Miami media organizations during the fall king tides — the highest high tides — when students and citizens used the application to document flooding. This spring FIU will further develop the application with support from Code for Miami by creating a more responsive interface, and building up the flood report database at citizen science events focusing on sea level rise.

Building public transportation prototypes

Traffic is one of the most common complaints in Miami. As a brigade we started taking some steps to addressing ways to address and improve public transportation in our area.

Quyen Tran, a member of Code for Miami (and a core member of neighboring Code for Fort Lauderdale) built a visualization illustrating all the public transportation options available at both the county and municipality level.

A hardware prototype of a real-time bus tracking tool developed by Code for Miami volunteers using an Arduino. Total cost to build: less than one hundred dollars. Photo credit: Ernie Hsiung

We also tackled hardware problems as well: after County Mayor Gimenez casually mentioned it should be straightforward to have real-time tracking systems on county busses, members of Code for Miami rose to the challenge with Miguel Herrsdorf building a real-time tracker prototype using an Arduino, a GSM board and a SIM card. The project was presented in front of staff including members of the county including Miami-Dade Transit, and best of all, the project is open source, meaning anyone can take a look at how we build it and replicate (or improve) the work.

CityGram comes to Miami-Dade County

CityGram is an award-winning notifications platform for subscribing to your city, whether it’s foreclosures in your area or building permits along your commute. Code for Miami volunteer Bryce Kerley helped add to this open source project by allowing anyone to get notifications for nearby 311 service requests such as Animal Services in Miami-Dade County. And if you know ruby, you can add to the code base as well!

Miami Graph visualizes county data

Inspired by a tweet from Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez encouraging the discussion of the proposed 2016 county budget, Code for Miami volunteers Mauro Perez and Gregory Johnson used open budget data released by the county to produce Miami Graph, visualizing the Miami-Dade budget so anyone can understand at a glance. Previously, budget data was locked in three volumes of PDFs, each file containing over 300 pages of lists, charts, and graphs.

They continue working on the project today, hoping to visualize more data given from the county.

Launching Miami-Dade Decoded

After a year or two of development, a group of Code for Miami volunteers led by Antonio Llanos and The OpenGov Foundation helped launch Miami-Dade Decoded, a free online resource to empower all County residents to discover, access and better understand the laws governing them.

“Broadening the conversation to include more ears, eyes and voices strengthens our democracy. The increased accessibility this tool will provide helps build upon the County’s efforts to promote government transparency and public trust.” — Daniella Levine Cava, County Supervisor
Code for America Fellows, Code for Miami and Code for America Staff pose for the camera at the CodeAcross event in February. (Photo credit: Damon Davidson)

Ramping up community efforts

CodeAcross was held at the Miami Ad School in February, where Miamians worked to build a prototype Q&A website for the county and developers built preliminary prototypes with county 311 information. Mayor Gimenez arrived to unveil Miami-Dade County’s Open Data Portal.

At the Miami National Day of Civic Hacking event in June, teams work on topics such as transportation, disaster preparedness and relief, and Florida CFO Jeff Atwater came to The LAB Miami to kick off a statewide challenge where NDOCH cities across Florida worked to create visualizations and apps from Florida open data on vendor payments.

New Leadership at Maptime Miami. The group of volunteer web cartographers added Dany Waltersdorfer and Nohely Alvarez as organizers this year. They stepped up to the plate, helping organize OpenStreetMap mapathons for the recent earthquake in Chile, as well as invited speakers from The Miami Herald to talk about their web cartography projects.

Looking to the future

In terms of Code for Miami staffing, there will be some slight leadership changes in 2016: Ernie Hsiung returns from his Fellowship in San Francisco to be co-captain the Code for America Brigade with Cristina Solana, while Rebekah Monson transitions to become the brigade Storyteller. Chris Scott, Danielle Ungermann and Justin Wales retain their positions as Tech Lead, Event/Community Organizer and Policy Advisor, respectively.

In the year to come, we hope to hold additional community events — look out for a DiscoTech in Miami during Black Tech Week — as well as experimenting with implementing Breakout groups (similar to Chicago’s Hack Night) in upcoming meetings.

Here’s to a fruitful 2016!

Special thanks to Matt Haggman of The Knight Foundation and Stuart Kennedy of The Miami Foundation for all the support they have contributed for civic technology and the Miami community!

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