Building a Local Open Data Community

Before taking my post in Los Angeles, I took some time to study the ingredients of successful open data communities around the country; cities as small as Portland to as large as New York, and everything in between. Many models, tactics, and strategies emerged. Hack nights, app competitions, open data, challenges, investment, etc… The challenge was to distill such creativity into some guidance for a city getting off the ground with open data. Below is my working draft of the “key elements of a successful open data community” — this isn’t meant to be exhaustive or rigorous, just a high-level identification of what seemed to work, where.

(You’ll note that this isn’t rather novel, but I found that breaking it out plainly helped organize efforts as we rebooted Hack for LA in the city and encouraged new partners — within the city and outside — to join in.)

1. Work on things that matter.

  • Identify high priority, high impact areas to focus community efforts — Integrated with Policy Agenda, Local Issues, community feedback, etc — Drives city Open Data Strategic Roadmap
    Model: San Francisco Roadmap

2. People should know each other.

  • Create group identify/brand and dedicated owner — In partnership with existing communities, events through networked approach — Needs to have dedicated staff for community/list management, etc
    Model: SmartChicagoCollaborative; Hack for LA & Compiler.LA
  • Create online and offline homes for collaboration space through fixed events, mailing lists — Host weekly Hack Nights
    Model: Chicago OpenGov Hack Night Create (or build upon) online community as a way to capture interest and grow internal connectivity
    Options: Meetup, NationBuilder, Google Groups

3. Support good people with good backing.

  • Identify funding, training, and mentorship opportunities for entrepreneurs
    Models: 1 Million Cups, Awesome Foundation, LA2050
  • Creates avenues to make innovations more sustainable and scalable
    Model: BlueRidge Foundation; SmartChicago; Knight Foundation News Challenge; SF Entrepreneurship in Residence program; Tumml; CfA Accelerator

4. Showcase the community’s success.

  • Draw attention to successful events and projects through city hall’s unique relationship to media
    Options: Invite Mayor as judge; Bring winners into City Hall for demo day; Recruit media partners to feature events and outcomes
  • Develop creative prizes / incentives for app contest winners/participants
    Model: Hack Education (prize was picture with Colbert)