'Civic hackers' reshape data to address local problems

The City of Austin partners with tech-savvy citizens and volunteers to make its public data more accessible.

On May 23, the city hosted a meeting of computer coders and software developers to showcase projects and promote the upcoming ATX Hackathon for Change on June 1–2 at St. Edward's University.

Volunteers with Open Austin, a group "promoting open government, open data and civic application development in Austin," are well aware of hacking's negative connotation.

"If you think about what nefarious hackers do, it's really trying to find a way to make a system do something it's not supposed to do," volunteer Herb Watkins said. "What we're trying to do is to quickly do things that make a lot of sense to do that an organization, perhaps because of history, prevents people from doing. We're trying to shortcut things."

During a hackathon, interested residents will form teams, discuss and identify community programs and design and develop software applications intended to address those challenges, said David Waldron, St. Edward's University vice president for information technology.

There are a few possible end results of the coders' work, Watkins said. Hackathons rarely produce completed, ready-to-use applications; they often lay the groundwork for later development.

These first steps may be picked up by city staff, volunteers or nonprofits, Watkins said. Unrelated project ideas can also come out of such sessions.

During the May 23 hackathon, volunteers worked on creating a streamlined method of viewing restaurant inspection data. Watkins said the goal was to create an application where a user could look at his or her mobile phone, locate nearby restaurants on a map and view the most recent inspection information.

The volunteers used information from the city's Data Portal and open source software from Socrata Inc.

Council members Chris Riley and Laura Morrison praised the volunteers' efforts and highlighted recent projects: ATX Floods, Bike Buddy and an open source platform for searching candidate campaign finance records.

ATX Floods provides current flood information and emergency road closures in Austin and Travis County.

Bike Buddy connects experienced bike commuters with those that are new to biking to work. Riley said that it had connected 114 riders to date, including 33 new riders.

"While serving on our council Emerging Technology and Telecommunication Committee, I've had an opportunity to work with [Open Austin] and others who have been involved in hacking and see what kinds of fruits it can bear for the Austin community," he said.

Morrison said that these and similar efforts were about leveraging technology to increase engagement and improve public service and transparency.

For more information, visit www.open-austin.org or https://hackforchange.org/atx-hackathon-change-2013.



MOST RECENT

The annual Dia de los Muertos celebration will take place in downtown. (Courtesy Mikie Farias Photography)
Street closures to know for New Braunfels' Dia De Los Muertos festival taking place tomorrow, Oct. 23

Dia De Los Muertos to take place tomorrow and these streets will be closed off to traffic beginning at 6 a.m.

Fitness studio Body20 is coming soon to Bee Cave's Hill Country Galleria. (Courtesy Giant Noise Public Relations)
New fitness studio, candy pop-up shop coming to Hill Country Galleria

A new candy pop-up shop and fitness studio are coming to Bee Cave's Hill Country Galleria.

Texas State University awarded $9.8 million for training and research into active shooter response. (Joe Warner/ Community Impact Newspaper)
Texas State University awarded $9.8M for active shooter response training

ALERRT was created in 2002 for training and research into active shooter response training.

Gruene Hall will be the backdrop of a new Scotty McCreery music video. (Community Impact Newspaper staff)
New Braunfels’ Gruene Hall set as backdrop for upcoming music video

Country musician Scotty McCreery shot the video in historic Gruene Hall as an homage to George Strait.

The Curiosity Cabinet will host its Haunted Art House 2021 show at Secret Siren Photography on Oct. 23 from 5-8 p.m. (Courtesy Photo)
Events happening in Georgetown in October and November

Check out these fun things to do in Georgetown starting this weekend.

Photo of Austin Community College pharmacy students preparing vaccines
Austin Public Health ramps up COVID-19 booster shot offerings, prepares for pediatric vaccines

High-risk individuals who received Pfizer are Moderna doses six months ago or more are now eligible for boosters—as are most recipients of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

The following commercial projects have been filed through the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation. (Screenshot courtesy Google Maps)
Check out the 5 latest commercial projects filed in Pflugerville and Hutto, including Wingstop and Taco Casa

Wondering what renovations and new construction are underway or set to begin soon in Pflugerville and Hutto? Be the first to find out.

Oak   Lotus Yoga Studio opened in mid-August. (Courtesy Oak   Lotus Yoga Studio)
4 wellness businesses that are now open, coming soon or being renovated in Southwest Austin

A new yoga studio and a martial arts studio are among businesses opening and remodeling in the area.

The first-ever Williamson County Fair and Rodeo opens its gates to guests Oct. 21 with live music, carnival rides, food vendors, rodeo events and more. (Courtesy Pexels)
CI NATION ROUNDUP: Inaugural Williamson County Fair and Rodeo underway; delivery drones coming to Friso and more top news

Take a look at the top five trending stories across all of Community Impact Newspaper’s coverage areas as of Oct. 22.

Rendering of the UT Leona Child Development Center
UT Austin set to open new Child Development Center east of I-35

A new university child care facility is headed to 2216 Leona St.

The third location of Shaggy Dog Market opened in San Marcos in September. (Courtesy Shaggy Dog Market).
Shaggy Dog Market opens third location in San Marcos

Buda resident Craig Barron opened the third location of Shaggy Dog Market in San Marcos.