New York City is on the cutting edge of both technology and government. It follows, then, that the city would also be on the cutting edge of two movements working to integrate technology and government – those of civic hacking and open data & government. As someone who cares deeply about good government and benevolent technology, I’m quite a big believer in these movements and try to engage with them in whatever capacity I am able.
Having gotten somewhat acquainted with these worlds since moving to the city, both through work and through personal explorations, I thought I’d give a little rundown of some of the major groups and individuals leading these movements. This list is by no means comprehensive, and is based almost entirely on my personal experiences and impressions, but should provide a good place to start.
First, some definitions:
- –Civic Hacking refers to efforts by hackers, developers, and technologists to build tools to allow for effective utilization of public data, helping citizens engage better with their governments, and vice versa.
- –Open Data refers to data produced by governments and institutions (records, research, etc), which they make available for public use and reuse.
- –Open Government refers to a style of governance which embraces the principles of Open Data and strives to use technology to increase collaboration and communication with those being governed.
As you can guess, these three movements are intertwined: civic hackers push for open government policies and rely on open data to build their applications. Anyway.
Now, the elected officials.
Gale Brewer is the current Manhattan Borough President, and has been affectionately described as the “godmother” of open data. During Gale’s career in the New York City Council, she advocated consistently for the adoption of technology as a way of helping to make governments more efficient and better serve their populations. She has also advocated for the making public of more and more government data, and works closely with groups like BetaNYC to help promote the use of open data and the development of new tools to help citizens and government officials take advantage of the data now available.
Ben Kallos is the current New York City Council member from the 5th district (covering the Upper East Side). A lawyer and former technology consultant, Ben works alongside Gale to help make government data open and public., as well as pushing for the adoption of more open source technologies. He makes appearances at open data and civic hacking events, and it always willing to take developers on as volunteers to help work on projects.
Next, some organizations and their leadership.
BetaNYC is the largest open government and civic technology meetup in the country, and has roots as a spinoff of the New York chapter of Code for America. One of the main points of contact between civic hackers and government, BetaNYC organizes weekly meetups where civic technologists can present projects and plan new collaborations. They also organize larger events, such as the annual “CodeAcrossNYC” conference, held last weekend.
Noel Hidalgo is the co-founder and Executive Director of BetaNYC, and a fixture at open government and civic hacking events. Noel’s past work has taken him through the New York State Senate and the World Economic Forum, and given him a good sense for the workings of government and the opportunities for opening up government data to the public. You can find him at basically any BetaNYC event, as well as at citywide technology shindigs.
Chris Whong is the co-director of BetaNYC and a self-described “open data junkie”. Chris works as a Data Solutions Architect at Socrata, a company dedicated to building tools to help governments and citizens take advantage of open data (such as the NYC 311 portal). You can find him at BetaNYC events and other civic technology and open data events around the city.
The NYC Open Data Meetup is a meetup “devoted to use big data technology and visualization to tell stories about the public open data.” They run workshops and trainings on using languages like R and Python, and tools like hadoop and D3.js to visualize data, using NYC open data as their primary source.
Open Plans is a technology non-profit working to design new was to incorporate public knowledge and desires into the urban planning process. They design technological tools for gathering public knowledge and visualizing and analyzing this public data.
The GovLab is a center at NYU which focuses on the use of technology, research, and data to drive government innovation. They work to develop new technologies to help governments and large institutions collaborate more effectively, as well as to promote citizen engagement with government.
This is just a start. For more information, this site contains a good summary of a number of organizations and individuals working on issue of technology, government, and society in New York.