Lightning Talks: Jan. 11 Open Gov & Civic Tech Meetup Recap

For Open Austin’s first meetup of the year, six members of our community presented rapid fire lightning talks showcasing the group’s diversity of skill and knowledge.

The subjects ranged from introductory to technical. Presentations covered everything from online legal resources, web mapping, satellite imagery APIs, problem framing, City of Austin open datasets, and updates to Open Records Policy from the 84th Texas Legislative Session.

Highlights from Twitter. Give us a follow to stay up to date. 

Keep up with our future events and join our Meetup group to RSVP.
Also feel free to check out our calendar.

Ready to start working with us?
Join us on Slack now or check out our Github Idea repo.



Ship It Weekend 2015 Event Summary

The goal for our first ever Ship It Weekend was to create a comfortable space for teams and new civic hackers to push forward on existing projects. Our sponsors graciously provided fast wifi, good food, and coffee. All key ingredients for productive civic hacking.

Here’s a summary of some of the achievements of our various projects over the two day hack:

The Open Street Map (OSM) Import Team split public domain building data amongst 776 census block groups that represent an individual task (unit of work). They have now managed to finish 208 out of 776 tasks (about 25%).

Recycling ATX is a webapp for reporting buildings that do not comply with Austin’s Universal Recycling Ordinance. They extended the backend API and made progress on the front end of their app.

Texas Appleseed continued working on a map of discipline statistics by school districts in Texas. They worked on making it easier to filter map views on classroom removals and the use of school police and court to address student behavior. These map visualizations are being included in their new School-to-Prison Pipeline awareness website. The site is still under development but can be viewed on their demo host.

Screen Shot 2015-11-29 at 11.06.40 PMThe Open Data Progress Report got an upgrade to display better on mobile browsers.

The City of Austin Socrata Data Portal Analysis Team is building a program that fetches summary information from the City’s open data portal and organizes it for analysis. They refactored their code so that other cities can use it, and added a feature to fetch the list of resources from Socrata. As of right now, when you run the program, it generates a csv with summary data from the data portal. View their program Github.

The Digital ATX team is creating an inventory of programs and locations that offer computer labs and training offerings. They worked on some UI elements of the profile page, and location inventory page.


TScreen Shot 2015-11-29 at 10.45.38 PMhe Transitime team is making the deployment of the OpenAustin Transitime fork more stable. They created a simple Bash script to clean up the GTFS zip data provided by Capmetro.

Instabus is a webapp that shows where buses are in Austin. The team worked to modernize the Instabus code to use React, Immutable.js, and Redux. They also began a redesign of the user interface to work better on mobile.

Austin Park Equity aims to increase equitable park access with maps thatt help visualize how Austin’s park resources are distributed throughout the City of Austin. The team worked on a node.js script to import census data from and thought about data architecture to import park GIS data from a unified source (looking at you Open Street Map) to pair better with Austin Green Map.

The Open Austin Policy Team added some items to our Google Doc of upcoming policy priorities.

Screen Shot 2015-11-29 at 10.52.16 PM The Open Austin Logo design group created a bunch of doodles, sketches and drafts of a new OA logo.

The Open Austin Website Redesign group worked on turning design mockups into functioning templates for the header, homepage, blogs. They also began content migration of existing OA articles.

Thanks to everyone that came and participated at Ship It Weekend!

Ship it group photo

Ship It Weekend Nov 21st-22nd

Finish the year strong at our Open Austin Ship It Weekend Hackathon, November 21st-22nd at Capital Factory!

Date: Sat-Sun, November 21st-22nd 2015

Time: Breakfast starts at 8:30am Saturday and kick-off is at 10:00am
Location: Capital Factory, Austin Centre Executive Suites, 701 Brazos St, Austin, TX 78701 (map)

The event is free, but seating is limited and advance registration is required: REGISTER NOWRegistration includes breakfast, lunch, and coffee for both days.

All year, volunteers from Open Austin have been working on Civic Tech projects. Needs in the community were identified and researched at the Code Across Austin event in February. Teams formed around projects at the City-sponsored ATX Hack for Change in June. And throughout the year, we’ve hosted monthly Civic Hack Nights to push our projects forward.

The Ship It Weekend is our final major event of the year!
The focus will be on existing projects that just need that last little push.

All skills and experience levels are welcome.
Maybe you haven’t done any “civic hacking” but you want to get involved with a project that could have a real impact in our community. We’ll need help with design, development, user testing, field research, marketing, photography, writing, policy expertise and probably more.

Join us as we push forward on various projects  that have been started throughout the year. Come celebrate a great year of civic hacking in Austin and let’s Ship It!

This event is conducted under the Open Austin Code of Conduct:


Register Now

Code for America Summit Recap

This month, 52 brigades and over 110 brigade captains and core team members from all across the world got together in Oakland, California for the 2015 Code for America Summit. Open Austin was represented by Brigade Captain, Mateo Clarke, and Delivery Lead, Luqmaan Dawoodjee. In addition to our brigade, the City’s Innovation Office sent 18 Austin City staff to participate in the conference.

Code for America Summit

Brigade Pre-Summit

At the brigade Pre-Summit, Mateo gave an Ignite talk on the Austin Park Equity project and our year long “Arc of Civic Hacking”. The talk told the story of how a little bit of luck and deliberate year long planning can lead to successful hack projects. You can see the slides here. Luqmaan lead an unconference session and discussion on making projects easier to fork. Our brigade has been inspired by awesome projects in other cities but has found redeployment to be tricky. In response to this experience, we created a set of guidelines based on the unconference discussion:

Code for America Announcements

Code for America as an organization is now 6 years old, and as they look to mature and consolidate their quick growth, they spoke a lot about sustainability and focus.

At the Pre-Summit, CfA introduced project stages for brigade hack projects: Experiment, Alpha, Beta, and Official. Each of these stages is focused on getting user feedback:

  • Experiment — Listen to the community, research the problems, and conduct many experiments.
  • Alpha — Solve one person’s problem. Make project accessible for other contributors.
  • Beta — Get more users. Talk to users and get feedback. Write tests. Formalize a government, community or media partner for the project.
  • Official — Host a launch party. Talk to more users. Focus on user accessibility.

More information about these stages is available at

Code for America also announced four key practice areas where they are hiring staff to grow subject matter expertise in each domain. Each of the Practice Area leads will help coordinate local brigade responses to global issues. These four domains are Health, Safety & Justice, Economic Development, and Communications & Engagement.

Common Themes

In talking to other brigades, we noticed a common challenge faced by all brigades: how to integrate beginner programmers. Brigades are stretched thin building and maintaining their civic tech projects. How do we help people who come to hack nights who want to learn how to code? Many cities already have a rich ecosystem of learn to code meetups. Do we direct beginners to the “learn to code” meetups? Do we adapt our hack nights to be more educational? We talked to brigade leaders from Philadelphia who started an Open Source Mentorship Program specifically for women. Ultimately, we know that there are ways to contribute as a “civic hacker” in ways that don’t involve coding and many brigades are thinking about how to integrate human centered design methods into their projects that leverage softer skills of all participants and can lead to more refined hack projects.


You can find videos of presentations from the Code for America Summit posted to Youtube.

Some of our favorite tweets



SXSW Session Proposals of Interest

SXSW 2016In 2012, Code for America founder Jen Pahlka was invited to to SXSW Interactive give a keynote address. Every year since, SXSW has presented many sessions of interest to the civic technology community.

Currently, SXSW is soliciting public input on session proposals through their Panel Picker tool. You can vote a proposal up (or down) to show your support (or not), as well as leave comments. Registration is required, but it’s free. Even if you haven’t registered to attend the event, you can participate in the panel picker.

We’d like to highlight some of the sessions of interest that we know about.

Aug 30 update: Innovation Office proposals added.

Continue reading

Smart Cities Meetup by CityUp, Aug 25

Date: Tue, Aug 25, 2015
Time: 5:30 – 7:30 PM
Location: Austin City Hall, 301 W 2nd St, 78701 (map)

Free RSVP link: here

(Open Austin is a member of the CityUP consortium, which is producing this event.)

Are you interested in meeting people who want to improve transportation, safety, health, education, economic opportunity, sustainability, environmental quality, and more by using technology, data, and analytics?

Smart city projects strive to advance all aspects of city life by using technology, data, and analytics to improve our understanding of urban design & planning, city infrastructure & operations, and civic issues & priorities. ‘Big Data’ is already transforming many industries and businesses, as well as education, research, and more. Smart city projects aim to collect data and use analytics to transform cities and the lives of the people in cities.

Austin CityUP™ is a new, comprehensive, city-wide consortium of companies, organizations, groups, and individuals that engage in smart city projects to advance Austin through digital technologies, data collection, analytics and modeling.

If you are interested in participating or just learning more, please join us for a smart city reception at Austin City Hall. You will hear about the upcoming plans of Austin CityUP™, learn about new opportunities, and meet people who are dedicated to transforming cities, and lives through the development, implementation, and operation of smart city projects.

Anyone interested in advancing and improving Austin is welcome!

Enjoy free snacks and drinks and bring your ideas and business cards!

Open Gov & Civic Tech Meetup, Aug 17

Date: Mon, Aug 17, 2015
Time: 6:45 – 8:45 pm (program starts 7 pm)
Location: Terrazas Branch Library, 1105 E. Cesar Chavez St, Austin, TX, 78702 (map)

Invited Guests:
• John Clary, Spatial Austin
• Ryan Robinson, City Demographer, City of Austin Planning and Zoning Department

Topic: Austin’s Demographic Trands

Aug 18 update: Here are the slides from last night’s update.

First, John Clary will share his work visualizing Austin’s 10-One Districts, growth, affordability, and gentrification with D3.js, OpenStreetMap, & Leaflet.

Then, Austin’s City Demographer will share his perspective on Austin Demographic trends and some interesting features of the new 10-One Council District demography.

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.  The meetup location is easily accessed by public transportation and has plentiful parking.

Open Gov & Civic Tech Meetup, Jul 20

Date: Mon, Jul 20, 2015
Time: 6:45 – 8:45 pm (program starts 7 pm)
Location: Terrazas Branch Library, 1105 E. Cesar Chavez St, Austin, TX, 78702 (map)
Calendar: link

Invited Guest: Jay Boisseau, Vizias
Topic: Smart City Technology

Jul 27 update: Slides are here

A smart city uses digital technologies to enhance quality and performance of urban services, to reduce costs and resource consumption, and to engage more effectively and actively with its citizens.

Jay Boisseau will be our guest this month. Jay will talk about smart city technology, and how we might use this approach in Austin to create a better city.

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.  The meetup location is easily accessed by public transportation and has plentiful parking.

Press Release: Local volunteers launch free “Pet Alerts” lost pets notification app in time for July 4 weekend

“Pet Alerts” Lost Pet Notification App Launched by Local Civic Technologists

Austin, TX (July 1, 2015) – Local volunteers have released a free application that helps Austin area residents recover their lost pets in time for the July 4 weekend, when fireworks cause many animals to panic and run astray. The application, Pet Alerts, is available at

Screen Shot 2015-07-01 at 11.57.17 PM

Losing a furry member of your family can by a distressing experience. Pet Alerts seeks to provide a solution to the common question, “How do I know if my pet has been recovered by Austin Animal Services?”  Pet Alerts allows residents to subscribe to receive text or email updates when an animal matching their lost pet’s basic description arrives at an Austin Animal Center facility. All a residents needs to do to recieve notifications is select what type of animal (dog, cat, or other) has gone missing and include their email and/or phone number. To narrow the scope of notifications, animal owners can also optionally include the date the animal went missing and the gender of their pet.

The best immediate actions that owners can take when their pet is missing is to search and notify members of their community. The first few hours hours are critical in recovering a lost pet. But once a pet has been checked into Austin Animal Center (AAC) facilities, Pet Alerts provides a convenient option to passively receive updates on AAC intakes.

“We chose to work on this project because there was an obvious need and we wanted to work with the city to make the underlying data available in a better format,” said software engineer, Tim Shelburne, lead developer of the app. “Once we had quality data, our first priority was to design a clear and simple process for pet owners to recover their pets,” said designer and web developer, Natalya Shelburne.

The data for this app is powered by the Austin Animal Services integration with the City of Austin Data Portal, found at Because Austin has a “no-kill” policy, Animal Services relies on efficient animal repatriation in order to meet their goals and avoid overcrowding in their facilities. More information on Lost & Found Pets can be found on the Animal Services webpage,

“This app illustrates how open access to city data can provide new services to residents through the passionate work of civic technologists. This app has been several years in the making and a key factor in the release of this app is the partnership with Austin Animal Services to release quality lost animal intake data through the City of Austin Data Portal,” said Open Austin Brigade Captain Mateo Clarke.  “With the City’s open data and hackathons like the ATX Hack for Change, we are becoming more successful in aligning community needs with the developers & designers that can create impactful solutions.”

The “Pet Alerts” app is the second animal services-related app developed by the volunteers of Open Austin. The first, the @CutePetsAustin Twitterbot, is a Twitter feed highlighting adoptable pets at the animal shelter. It’s available at

Open Austin is a citizen volunteer group that promotes open government, open data, and civic application development in Austin, Texas as a part of the Code for America grassroot network of like-minded brigades. Open Austin was formed in 2009 by citizens interested in the City of Austin web strategy. Open Austin is on the web at


(Download a PDF version of the press release here.)