Saturday, June 4, 2011

Code for Oakland

Today was an exhausting but hella fun day. I spent it at the Code for Oakland, a one-day event to bring together programmers, designers, and various organizations to design some apps devoted to looking at local datasets of use to people in Oakland, particularly those without regular web access.

There were roughly 100 people in attendance, with a wide variety of backgrounds. We started by introducing ourselves and throwing out any ideas we had. Those ideas were added to ones that people came up with in community listening sessions from the weeks before the event. A rough vote of interest narrowed the field, and some people took 'ownership' of the resulting ideas. We then broke up into groups based on interest in the idea, while some people stayed in the main group to discuss open data sets that are available, and how the city of Oakland can make things more accessible.

Our group was small but mighty. We focused on connecting people in Oakland with better sources of food, particularly in the various 'food deserts' in West and East Oakland. The idea is simple from a user standpoint: near this location, where can I find this food, and the best/healthiest version of it? If there are multiple sources, they're listed based on distance, sourcing (local, organic, fair trade, etc.) and cost. For example, our hypothetical user was searching for tomatoes near them, and got back 3 listings including a local market, a farmer's market, and a community farm. Or the search could say tomatoes aren't in season. After initial seeding of the data, further data updates would come from the local food producers themselves. Users can also sign up for alerts about different foods being available (e.g., when plums are in season).

Other ideas included getting people with limited access better access to things like, better job searching for people parolees with limited web access, getting students hooked up with after school activities, and more. Some really great ideas, that my descriptions can't do justice to. What was really amazing is how far some of the groups got in prototyping their ideas. The 311 service: Citizen feedback on local issues had quite a bit working, as did the job searches for parolees.

The event was organized by Susan Mernit of Oakland Local, and Amy Gahran helped facilitate it. A bunch of Oakland orgs and businesses helped sponsor the event. Thank you all! And a big thank-you to Michael, who did the lion's share of the work to put a prototype of our group's idea together.

Check out the video from Zennie62 of Oakland Focus. He was one of the judges, and not surprisingly, showed up with video camera in hand. Our project is featured about 10:30 into the video, but it's all worth watching to get a better idea of what Code for Oakland is about. And check out his blog post.

There's also a great post on Huffington Post by #codeforoakland participant Tanja Aitamurto. Her group was working on the better job searching for parolees project.

collecting ideas

refining our idea

sticky note = whiteboard

after party!

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