Making Civic Data Useful: The Civic Data Challenge

The national Civic Data Challenge is wrapping up this weekend and it needs the best and brightest ideas out there to help make localized "civic health" data useful through visualizations and apps that better educate and engage civic leaders on what's going on in their communities.

This is important, and I hope that designers, developers, and technologists of all stripes will heed the call. Today, citizen innovation is one of the only ways we can make civic data really work.

The fact is that there is ridiculous amounts of useful economic, health, safety, and education data all around us, but it's not currently being used as it could be to help make better decisions in our cities and states. To many (most?), the kind of "civic health" data that shows whether citizens of our cities are voting, participating in other civic activities, or even working with neighbors on hyper-local problems, all looks like just a bunch of numbers. Most inside local governments simply don't know what to do with it.

The idea behind the Civic Data Challenge is that there are citizens with awesomely specialized skills like graphic artists, designers and application programmers who do.

When we make this data visually useful - and dare I say interesting - through infographics, visualizations and applications, decision-makers in local government, nonprofit leadership, academia and more can better understand what's going on and take appropriate action.

And we've seen that when we create visuals, it works.

There have been many apps Challenges in recent years - and the federal government has even launched its own challenge platform to encourage this kind of crowd-sourced innovation across all its agencies.

This Challenge is special, though, because it's opening up to the social sector of nonprofits and civic innovators in a new way while also engaging the typical civic-hacker communities. Behind the Challenge are the National Conference on Citizenship (NCoC) and the Knight Foundation who have provided the vision for the challenge, as well as the critical civic health data. The challenge is also generously sponsored by the Foundation and supported by partners such as Code for America, GOOD, and Kaggle.

The submission deadline is Midnight, Sunday August 5th so I'll hope you'll get your stuff together and make it happen.

Bonus consideration is given to those who collaborate with others, so the challenge is hoping to see teams of designers, data scientists, researchers, app developers, and even citizens with little more than a great idea getting together to make big things happen.

One of the best parts is that winners will be publicly announced at the 67th Annual National Conference on Citizenship at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia on September 14.

And when teams submit, they'll have the chance to get their work in front of (and promoted by) an extraordinary team of judges including Craig Newmark, Maria Teresa Kumar, Vivek Kundra (former CIO of the United States), Beth Kanter, Darrell Hammond, Leslie Bradshaw and more.

The challenge of making use of the valuable data all around us to make our cities (and country) smarter, cleaner, safer, and more vibrant is one that we'll continue to get better at as a society for years to come -- but no time like the present to get started.