BostInno covers first Open Data Nation challenge

Note: Open Data Discourse is now Open Data Nation! 

Reprinted from BostInno:

When the City of Cambridge open sourced municipal data, it coincided with the announcement of a design challenge called Dubbed Open Data Discourse. The objective is simple: harness that data and create something innovative for residents to digest, enjoy, and put to good use.

Open Data Discourse was created by Carey Anne Nadeau, a master's student in city planning at MIT. It was conceived, as most innovations are, out of sheer frustration. She was tired of the contacting her local Representatives in hopes of solving street-level issues, an antiquated system that's backlogged with similar requests, but had no luck. So she took matters into her own hands and thus ODD was born.

The first contest ODD is hosting is called the Street Safety Challenge. She hopes to solicit ideas from planners, designers, entrepreneurs, architects and civic-minded creatives on how to use four years worth of data pertaining to traffic accidents (including vehicles, bikes and pedestrians) to make Cambridge's streets safer.

"I felt I had skills and I wanted to contribute to the democratic process," Nadeau told me. "There was no real platform to participate."

Using data to create helpful pieces of information is another form of engagement, one that's more tailored to this increasingly digital generation and perhaps just as effective as trying to contact a government official.

"I do feel that people are doing really innovative things to communicate and expressing frustration to with the state of current affairs," she added. " We're not just making data transparent, we're trying to make better decisions and improve communities based on that data."

That shape this data will take remains to be seen. Perhaps it'll be in the form of the above map. It all depends on who submits and their respective objective. Nadeau is in talks with the likes of art councils, transportation research groups and cycling advocates, to name a few, who expressed interest in taking part in the challenge.

With those organizations in mind, it's not farfetched to think that the Street Safety Challenge could yield apps, art installments and other interactive media. With infrastructure projects in the planning stage such as the Grand Junction Community Path and the Pearl Street reconstruction project, safety measures are of the utmost importance.

But Nadeau also hopes the challenge inspire policy changes while also empowering residents to take action themselves.

On January 9, after all submissions are reviewed, ODD will convene participants and stakeholders at the Microsoft NERD Center in Kendall Square to discuss best practices and what the city can do to move forward.

"We feel that with typical hackathons and challenges, there's some frustration." Continued Nadeau. "You don't know where your contribution went. We're hoping to close that loop and have a conversation."

Already the experience in putting together ODD has been invaluable for Nadeau, her constituents and the City of Cambridge alike. Not only is Cambridge's municipal website drawing more web traffic, but the open sourced data is the second most viewed data set for the city this year – and it's only been available for about a month.

Still, their knowledge will help them facilitate more projects like this challenge moving forward. And, come springtime, Nadeau will be incorporating ODD as a company where she hopes to bring this concept to other cities, beginning here in Greater Boston, or other issues for which the public is already in favor of.

Photo: Wendy Maeda/Boston Globe staff