CK superhero Jamie Hollier interviewed Brian Gryth from OpenColorado about his work with the state of Colorado. Here’s what he has to say.
So what does OpenColorado do?
OpenColorado is an organization founded with the idea that government is on the cusp of a transformation that can lead to significant positive change. That change aims to create a govt that is easy-to-use, simple, and beautiful with compelling resources and tools.
OpenColorado supports that work with two core missions:
1) Enable open access to government information (eg crime, health, GIS, and transit data).
2) Host, organize, and partner with others to educate governments and citizens on how to create more transparent, participatory, and collaborative communities.
Much of the inspiration and mission of OpenColorado is influenced by the Govt. 2.0 movement and the work of Tim O’Reilly specifically.
OpenColorado is a little different from some of the other groups working in this area as we are one of the oldest community data catalogs in the world. Additionally, whereas many are state-driven collections, ours is different in that it is community driven.
What resources are available through OpenColorado?
Right now, OpenColorado is home to a federated catalog that hosts data sets that are primarily from municipal governments. Data.OpenColorado.gov is where all the data is collected and it currently is just shy of 700 sets of data. This collection helps to make this information more findable and allows municipalities to create a repository and catalog of their data.
At the moment, most of the information on the site is related to GIS data, but other types are being added all the time.
We are also often engaged with Hackathons in the community. So far, we’ve run one of our own in 2012 and have been involved in others with Denver Startup Week. We were recently just involved with a hackathon run by the city of Longmont that 14 year old, Jackson Roberts won for his app “Longmont Events.”
One of the hackathons that is coming up that we are a sponsor for is the Hack4Colorado event that will be held the weekend of May 31st and that coincides with the National Day of Civic Hacking.
What are some of the reasons that you are involved in hackathons?
The reason hackathons are of benefit is because data is nice, but it has to be applied to make it relevant for most of the public. The hackathons allow us to take open data and make it into web, mobile, and other applications in order to increase the relevance of our data.
The best way we have found to turn that data into tools is through hackathons. However, that is not to say that just a 48 hour work time will get you to a good, complete tool, but it gets you started and it exposes people to the possibilities of this data.
A hackathon is also a good proof of concept for different models of civic engagement. This illustrates to those involved, developers, designers, etc. that they can impact civic engagement and increase community involvement in different ways with the skills they already have.
For example, many developers may not like door knocking or community meetings. However, they still care and they can make a big difference by working with software to build tools that connect the government to the people and vice versa.
How did you get involved in OpenColorado and the open government movement?
First, I was always interested in technology, but having my daughter a few years ago really opened my eyes to how technology could change her life. Based on that realization and my interest in that, I became aware of the the Govt. 2.0 movement. Then, during a project at my day job at the Secretary of State’s office, I was working on a session for an event and was able to bring in leaders from the Govt 2.0 world for that session.
In 2010, another OpenColorado founder, Sean Hudson, went to CityCamp in Chicago and was advised by Tim O’Reilly to implement Sean’s idea to create a community data and idea sharing platform In June of 2010, Sean, myself, and the other founders Michele Hovet and Scott Primeau launched the first irritation of what would become OpenColorado. And the rest is history.
Are you a developer? What is your background?
I have a background in political science and I am a lawyer. At my Secretary of State job, I mostly I do management consulting. For OpenColorado I handle most of our business development, evangelizing, and partner development.
Being a non-tech person in a tech field, I have always found it interesting and challenging. I can understand the non-tech person’s perspective which means I am skilled at helping to understand the challenges and pitfalls from a user’s perspective. Also, in any space, you need a balance of tech and non tech people to balance things out and create the right tools and solutions. Tech is dependent on the business side of the work as well and I bring that skill set to our work.
In a way, I feel like that is what government has been missing, the business side of managing technology. That is not to say that government should be run as a business, but that more understanding and relations between political science, government, business, etc. will make technology and government more effective.
Also, I love where I am right now. Being in a tech space is exciting and it is where a lot of the cool stuff is happening and where everything is moving, especially for civics since it allows you to provide more services for less costs. In the civic technology space it is really just getting started, we are in on the ground floor at the beginning. This is the start of something important and impactful and will change the way people will live.