Open Gov & Civic Tech Meetup, Apr 21

Date: Mon, Apr 21, 2014
Time: 6:45 – 8:45 pm
Location: Terrazas Branch Library, 1105 E. Cesar Chavez St, Austin, TX, 78702 (map)
Calendar: link

Topic One: Meet the City of Austin Data Architect

The City of Austin has just created a new position, a Data Architect. This person will be on the Communications and Technology Management (CTM) staff, and will be responsible for the data architecture of key enterprise projects in the city. They also will play a large role in shaping our open data systems.

His name is Ted Lehr. We’ll have an opportunity to meet Ted, and talk about the future for open data initiatives in the city.

Topic Two: Austin 3-1-1: Data, Apps, and API

Back in early 2013, the City of Austin was contemplating a contract extension with our 3-1-1 service system provider. At the direction of the City Council, Open Austin members met with city staff to discuss the project plans. Our key feedback point was concern the project support open data and open API standards, and not lock us into a proprietary platform app. We also dove deeper into the plans to integrate 3-1-1 with other city systems.

The city council approved the contract — with our support — and city staff have been moving forward on implementation.

Now, about a year later, the results are coming to fruition. Open data is already being published on the open data portal. Soon, the city will begin limited testing  not only of mobile platform apps, but also Open311 API services. Also, plans for an enterprise service bus to integrate the 3-1-1 systems into the other city enterprise systems is proceeding.

Brian Hooper and Bill Starks from Austin 3-1-1 will be coming to our meeting to provide a status update, and discuss plans for public testing of the apps and API.

After the meetup, we’ll move across the street to Cenote cafe.

The meetup location is easily accessed by public transportation and has plentiful parking. If you park, however, be sure to move your car if you plan to come to Cenote. The lot is locked when the library closes.

The Open Austin Hack Team will have a check-in from 6:00 – 6:30 pm, in advance of the meetup. If you are a developer or designer who wants to work on hacking projects, please come for the check-in to find out what’s going on.

Open Austin hosts a monthly meet-up, to discuss local open government and civic technology issues. Our meet-ups are free and open to the public.

Open Gov & Civic Tech Meetup, Mar 17

Date: Mon, Mar 17, 2014
Time: 6:45 – 8:45 pm
Location: Terrazas Branch Library, 1105 E. Cesar Chavez St, Austin, TX, 78702 (map)
Calendar: link

Topic: Public Information in the Age of Open Data

Invited Speaker: Sherri Greenberg, Director of the Center for Politics and Governance at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, University of Texas at Austin. Ms. Greenberg served in the Texas House of Representatives for ten years, and previously was Manager of Capital Finance for the City of Austin.

Our March meetup falls during “Sunshine Week“, a national event recognizing the importance of access to public information and what it means for you and your community. Our meetup is one of the national events scheduled for Sunshine Week.

Continue reading

Geospatial Jam Features Skill Sharing, Data Awareness


Civic hackers, GIS analysts, government officials and members of the general public came together Saturday, Feb. 22 at the University Hills Branch Library in “Austin for Code Across Austin IV: Geospatial Jam”. Over 50 people attended the day-long event presented by Open Austin and the Austin Open-Source GIS User Group. The Geospatial Jam was Open Austin’s local event coordinating with the international Code Across 2014 events and International Open Data Day.

Unlike many of the Code Across and Open Data Day events, the Geospatial Jam was not a hackathon. Instead, it was a series of presentations and tutorials intended to share skills with the local community. These sessions ranged from sessions explaining geospatial data and how to do basic visualization with free tools to advanced presentations on how to develop geospatial web applications. Participants ranged from community members with a passing interest in data analysis to geospatial developers with years of experience.

All of the events took place at the Austin Public Library branch in the University Hills neighborhood, a historically African-American neighborhood in Northeast Austin. Thanks to the generosity of our sponsors, excellent food and beverage — including lunch – were provided to all presenters and participants. Sponsors for our local event were Google, Socrata, and Boundless. We also received support from Code Across 2014 national sponsors Microsoft, ESRI, and Code for America.

Continue reading

Presidential Innovation Fellows Seek Contributors for Open Source Projects

(This guest post by Robert L. Read, PhD, an Austin resident and Presidential Innovation Fellow.)

The Presidential Innovation Fellowship program seeks to invigorate Federal information technology by bringing industry experts into government for short-term tours of duty. The second class of Fellows is underway now, and have worked on a variety of projects.

The Fellows embrace the open source culture, but so far we have seen limited contributions to our open source projects. We’re trying to change that by promoting our projects more energetically and by seeking your advice on how to make them more exiting to open source developers, designers, and artists.

Continue reading

Jan ’14 Meetup Features Watershed Protection Safety and Visualization Projects

Sixteen people participated in Open Austin’s first meetup of the year, this past Monday night at the Terrazas Branch Library. Open Austin plans to host monthly meetups throughought 2014, to discuss open data policy and projects with the general public. At Monday’s meetup, Matt Porcher and Rob Clayton from the City of Austin Watershed Protection Department presented some projects they developed, as well as efforts to share data with the public.

Porcher gave the group an update on, a project that was initiated by Code for America fellows during their residency in 2012. The website provides a map that shows low-water crossings that lead to road closures and dangerous conditions because of flood waters. The project has been incorporated as a service maintained by the City of Austin to inform residents of dangerous driving situations. One perhaps unintended use case is local news media, which have used the site to inform their audiences of dangerous conditions. The current president of the Dove Springs Neighborhood Association attended the meetup with keen interest. The Dove Springs neighborhood suffered devastating damage in floods last year. He provided feedback on how the city and emergency services could best provide residents with emergency information.

Clayton demonstrated FloodPro, an online application that maps the city’s flood plains and indicates the water quality of watershed areas around the city. The tools he presented were largely developed for policy and scientific audiences, so he asked the group for feedback on potential uses by the general public and interface considerations for a broad audience. Watershed Protection is one of the most data-intensive departments in the City government. Because of concerns after the 1981 Memorial Day flood, Austin has been a leader in developing flood-related programs and maintaining data about watersheds in the city.

Slides from the presentations are available here:

Open Austin is planning several events a month through 2014, including a monthly meetup and a monthly hack night. The next meetup is scheduled for February 24 at the Terrazas Branch Library. It will feature Thomas Levine, a citizen hacker who has produced a number of data visualization projects based on open government data. Join our email list for latest news and events.

Code Across Austin IV / Geospatial Jam, Sat, Feb 22

Date: Sat, Feb 22, 2014
Time: 10:30 am – 4:30 pm
Location: University Hills Branch Library, 4721 Loyola Ln, Austin, TX 78723 (map)

The event is free, but seating is limited and advance registration is required: register here

From crime incidents to restaurant inspections, the most interesting and highest value open government data often has a geospatial component: a place, a district, a boundary, or the like.

The “Code Across Austin IV/Geospatial Jam” is a one-day workshop for the community to learn about location-rich data and tools. It is intended for everybody from programmers to spreadsheet jockeys to neighborhood advocates. We will focus on tools and technology for manipulating civic datasets that contain location information.

The event is free and open to the public. It is conducted as part of the national “Code Across America” weekend, sponsored by Code for America. This will be fourth time Austin has participated in a national “Code Across” event.


  • Marben Cayatano, City of Austin
  • Mateo Clark, Open Austin
  • Maya Coleman, City of Austin
  • Chris McConnell, UT Telecommunications and Information Policy Institute
  • Ryan Murphy, Texas Tribune
  • Chip Rosenthal, Open Austin
  • Sara Safavi, Austin Open Source GIS Meetup
  • James Seppi, Texas Natural Resource Information System
  • Kelly Strickler, Texas A&M Transportation Institute


  • Introduction to Geospatial Data
  • Government Datasets Online
  • Data Crunching and Conversion
  • Use Case: Data Visualization and Reporting with Google Fusion Tables
  • Use Case: Creating and Styling Maps with Mapbox and TileMill
  • Developer Tools for Database and Mapping
Presented by:
City of AustinAustinGO-70x80


Code Across Austin sponsored by:


Code Across America sponsored by:
Code for America Brigadelogo-microsoft-374x80logo-esri-219x80

City of Austin Gets Chief Innovation Officer

Our two-year effort to support a new Office of Civic Innovation within the City of Austin has culminated with the appointment of the first Chief Innovation Officer for the City.

Last night, the City announced:

City Manager Marc Ott announced today, Dec. 17, that he was appointing Kerry O’Connor to become the first Chief Innovation Officer to the City of Austin.

“I expect the Innovation Office to work across City departments, as well as forge relationships between the City, university, community, businesses, and the technology community and to serve as a gateway for proactively engaging diverse constituencies in creating unique and creative solutions to civic challenges,” said Austin City Manager Marc Ott.

Ms. O’Connor is scheduled to start March 24, 2014.

We see this position as key for moving forward on the open government and open data policies established by the Mayor and City Council.

For more information, see the press release: City Manager Ott Names First Chief Innovation Officer

Austin Annual Holiday Web Bash 2013

Date: Tuesday, December 10, 2013
Time: 7 – 9pm
Location: Buffalo Billiards, 201 E 6th St, Austin, TX
Event/RSVP Page:

Open Austin is joining over 30 other local groups in co-hosting the Austin Annual Holiday Web Bash.

The organizer’s say about this year’s event:

Following in our grand tradition, we plan to get together with the rest of the Austin web and tech community for a giant holiday party. Come escape from the stress of end-of-year deadlines and impending familial obligations with some great drinks and awesome people.

Each year participation has grown, and we’re very proud that what started out as a small gathering now includes over 25 active groups spanning a wide swath of the Austin Web and Tech community. Last year over 800 people joined us. This year we’re we’ve got more space and our sponsors are helping us make it even bigger!

In line with participation from so many groups, awesome local businesses have stepped up to sponsor the event, providing a bar tab and covering other party-related costs.

Austin is an amazing town filled with inspiring people and groups. You should come hang out with all of them on December 10th.

VoteATX application updated for Nov 5 Election

It’s election time in Texas. There are a number of state constitutional amendments on the ballot. The City of Austin is holding a referendum for an affordable housing bond. And if you live in State District 50, you’ll be voting for a State Representative.

The Travis County election site, with full information on this election is here:

Information on the City of Austin Affordability Housing bond is here:

Important: the State of Texas mandatory voter id law is now in effect. You’ll need to bring a picture id with you when you want to vote. For more information, visit the Keep Calm and Vote On website.

Screenshot of VoteATX application
VoteATX Application Updated

The VoteATX application can be used during the early voting period, as well as on election day, to find the closest places to vote. It’s mobile-enabled and cross-platform, so you should be able to use it on your phone.

Launch the VoteATX application now:

The application is open source, produced by local civic hackers, and powered by open government data furnished by Travis County. You can view the source code repository online. If you have any feedback, you can submit it to the issue tracker for this project.

Open Government Performance Audit, Wed, Aug 28

City Council Audit and Finance Committee Meeting (link)
Date: Wed, Aug 28, 2013
Time: 10:00 am
Location: Austin City Hall, Room 1101, 301 W 2nd St, Austin, TX 78701 (link)

[Aug 28 update: Exciting news -- the City of Austin has issued its long-awaited Open Government Directive. We are expecting to hear more at the meeting today.]

This City of Austin has conducted a performance audit of the Open Government initiative. The results will be presented this Wednesday morning, to the City Council Audit and Finance Committee. The meeting is open to the public. We request local open government and civic technology supporters attend, to show support for these issues.

We are concerned that the City of Austin Open Government Initiative, launched nearly two years ago, has faltered, and is on the brink of failure.

In December 2011, the City Council passed a resolution directing the City Manager to develop an Open Government Framework, including timelines and budget requirements. Now, nearly two years later, the framework has not been done and we have seen no recent signs of activity. The budget requirements called for have never been developed, even though we are now going through the second budget cycle since the resolution was passed.

In 2012, Austin hosted a Code for America fellowship, and three fellows were assigned to our city. They produced two significant apps: one to help mitigate risks from wildfire ( and another to relieve animal shelter space by helping get recovered pets back to their owners (Stray Mapper). Both apps have failed. is not being maintained and has not been activated this current wildfire season. Stray Mapper has never been deployed, even though, this summer, the animal shelter has declared an overcrowding crisis — which is the circumstance this app was designed to help alleviate.

The flow of information on the open data portal ( has slowed to a trickle. The city produces hundreds — if not thousands — of new public datasets each year, but they are not getting released. In the past 30 days, only nine new datasets have been added — and that’s higher than recent months. One department (Budget and Finance) did a large release of eight new datasets, which accounts for nearly all the activity.

In August 2012, we foresaw the need for leadership to move this initiative forward. We proposed the creation of a high level Civic Innovation Office. The City Council approved $250K funding to pilot this initiative. Yet nearly a year later, the office is still unstaffed, and the first personnel requisition was issued just this month.

Even worse, city management has not allowed the community to participate in the development of the program, and has redirected the effort away from the civic and community vision we advocate, to an office that supports internal city processes and functions. While we certainly support the City Manager trying to bring innovation to internal city processes, we do not support his efforts to take funds allocated for one mission — a mission advocated by the public and approved by the City Council — and apply them to something entirely different.

We anticipate that the performance audit will document the lack of progress on the Open Government initiative, and we hope it provides guidance to get the program back on track.

We plan to attend the Wednesday meeting, to present our ideas on how to do that. We hope you can attend, and add your support for open government and civic technology.