Open Data Day/CodeAcross Event Recap

Blacksburg’s first celebration of Open Data Day and CodeAcross was organized by Code for NRV, our local Code for America brigade, and the University Libraries, which hosted the event in Newman Library’s Multipurpose Room. Originally scheduled for Saturday, February 21 (the official Open Data Day observed in hundreds of cities around the world), due to rapidly accumulating snow we had to postpone until Sunday. As it turned out, a water leak closed the library around mid-day Saturday, so things worked out for the best. (Our apologies to registrants for the sudden change in plans.)

Open Data Day logo

The first event of the morning was a mapping roundtable led by Peter Sforza, director of the Center for Geospatial Information Technology at Virginia Tech. In addition to looking at a lot of cool maps, we identified three potential areas for collaboration:

  • 3D Blacksburg – an effort to develop a common, shared 3D spatial reference model for Blacksburg and the New River Valley.
  • Contributing more authoritative data to OpenStreetMap for Blacksburg and Virginia by working with GeoGig.
  • Opening data that CGIT compiles for projects and research, for example crash data from the Virginia Department of Transportation.
Mapping Roundtable
Peter Sforza Leads the Mapping Roundtable

For the journalism roundtable, we were joined by Scott Chandler, Design/Production Adviser for the Educational Media Company at Virginia Tech, and Cameron Austin, former editor of the Collegiate Times. One problem the CT has is finding/keeping programmers to help with data, such as their academic salaries database. Code for NRV will try to help with recruitment. A database of textbook costs was identified as a possibility to work on that would be of particular interest to students.

Blacksburg town council member Michael Sutphin joined us for the public policy roundtable, which included interesting discussions of town planning notifications and ways to encourage citizen engagement (such as the underutilized site Speak Up Blacksburg). Some of the project ideas included:

  • Visualizations of the town’s historical budget data that could benefit the public and town officials.
  • Opening the raw data used to create tables and maps in the town’s comprehensive plans.
  • Analysis of emails to and from local government officials to create visualizations of the most commented on topics in the town, e.g. word clouds and tag lists.

Our hackathon emerged from the morning’s mapping roundtable, so perhaps it’s not surprising that the projects were geographic in nature:

  • One volunteer used the Virginia Restaurant Health Inspection API created by Code for Hampton Roads to create a map of Blacksburg restaurants and their health scores.
  • An architecture student started a project that will use open 3D geospatial data from Virginia Tech to design pathways that are sculpted for the landscape.
  • Researchers from the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute adapted a model used in Ebola research to optimize placement of EMS staging areas during flood emergencies in Hampton Roads, Virginia. The model uses open data sets like the location and elevation of every roadway in Virginia to determine which streets would still be navigable during a flood.
Waldo Jaquith
Waldo Jaquith

To kick off our events Friday evening, we were very happy to have Waldo Jaquith speaking on “Open Government Data in Virginia” prefaced by a brief introduction to Open Data Day/CodeAcross by Ben Schoenfeld, co-leader of the Code for NRV brigade. Waldo Jaquith is the director of the U.S. Open Data Institute, an organization building the capacity of open data and supporting government in that mission. See the video of his talk below.

Thanks to everyone who turned out Friday and/or Sunday!

Thanks to the University Libraries’ Event Capture Service for the video below.

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About Philip Young

Philip Young is Scholarly Communication Librarian at Virginia Tech where he supports outreach about open access, copyright/open licensing, open data, ORCID, and metrics/altmetrics.

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