CKANconUS and Code for America Summit: some thoughts about the important questions

It’s been a few weeks after CKANConUS and the seventh Code for America Summit took place in Oakland. As always, it was a great place to meet old friends and new faces of technologists, policy experts, government innovators in the U.S. In this blogpost I share some of the experience of attending these two conferences and a few thoughts I’ve been ruminating about the discussions that happened, and more importantly, those that didn’t happen.

CKAN is an open source open data portal platform that Open Knowledge International developed several years ago. It has been used and reused by many governments and civil society organizations around the world. For CKANconUS, the OK US group, led by Joel Natividad organized a one day event with different users and implementers of CKAN around the United States.

We had the California based LA Counts, gathering data from the 88 cities in the County of Los Angeles; the California Data Collaborative working to improve water management decisions. We also had some interesting presentations from the GreenInfo Network and the California Natural Resources Agency. And we had the chance to hear about the awesome process of the Western Pennsylvania Regional Data Center to choose CKAN as its platform and how they maintain the project (presentation included LEGOs in every slide).

On the more technical side, David Read, Ian Ward and our own Adrià Mercader talked about the new versions of CKAN, the Express Loader and the Technical Roadmap for CKAN, 11 years after its development started. You can view the slides by Adrià Mercader on the CKAN Technical Roadmap overview here.

We closed with some great lightning talks about datamirror.org to ensure access to federal research data and Human Centered Design and what Amanda Damewood learned about working in government in improving these processes.

The next two days in the Code for America Summit were full of interesting talks about building tools, innovating in our processes and making government work for people in a better way. There were some interesting keynote speakers as well as breakout sessions where we discussed the process to build certain projects and how we can rethink how we engage in our communities. I would like highlight two mainstage talks about collaboration (or the difficulty of such) between government and civil society.

The first is a talk and panel about disasters in Puerto Rico, Houston and cities in Florida, where some key points were raised about the importance of having accurate, verifiable and usable information in these cases, as well as the importance of having a network of people who are willing to help their peers. The second is the presentation Code for Asheville presented, regarding their issues with homelessness and police data. This isn’t necessarily what you would call a success story but Sabrah n’haRaven made a great point about working with social issues: “Trust effective communities to understand their own problems”. This may sound like a given in the work we do when working with data and building things with it, but it’s something that we need to keep in mind.

Using this line of thought, it seems crucial to keep these conversations going. We need to understand our communities, be aware that there are policies that go against the rights of people to live a fulfilling life and we need to change that. I hope for the next CfA Summit and CKANConUS we can try to find some answers to these questions collectively.