On Friday, I took my first trip up to Albany for the first (fingers crossed) CapitolCamp, an unconference put together by the NY State Senate CIO and the NY State CIO.

A real range of people and experiences
were represented: private citizens who had a specific need, public servants
who can see the process challenges of moving to bottom-up systems,
librarians who are the faithful stewards of Senate data, folks hoping to make sense of all the silly webapp names being thrown
their way, the geeks who spend all day on those apps.

This diversity was a challenge, but that’s why we all came together in
the first place. This is a big responsibility of people who work and
play on the Web: to work with public servants to understand the current
process challenges and ways to address them.

TOPP got kudos at a few points, both for the community tools at Livable Streets and for converting the MTA Budget data into an open, mashable form.

My takeaways:

Which Open Data?

It was great to hear Ben Yee say ‘hey we have a ton of data and we want to make it all open and accessible, so tell me what you want to see first.’ After a few minutes, the list included: budgets, geospatial data, member items, committees, government-funded data links. Here’s what they have available right now.

A challenge in delivering on the promise of open data is in making data production easy or <gasp> automatic. Ideally, it doesn’t take a bunch of extra steps to convert budget data into a useful form. Making open formats and open standards. As a first step, there are a ton of opportunities for little integration points with proprietary systems. I only wish I had also attended the Open Data for Developers session.

Just Try It.

Pretty much everyone was ready to try new things – tools, strategies etc. That willingness is more important than any interest in any particular technology. Obviously, the group that attended is pretty self-selecting, but I was still heartened to hear enthusiasm from long-time public servants, folks who have probably been faced with ‘the next big idea’ too many times to count.

Help, Where Do I Start??

The day was about "convening a group of citizens and civil servants to share ideas about how technology can make government work better for all the citizens of the Empire State," so there was a ton of positive energy. Half of the conversations I had were just about releasing all those pent up ideas.

We were skimming across the pond’s surface. Just right for a one day, first ever un-conference. I’m looking forward to getting farther into some of the projects that came out of it. A number of folks came with great ideas, and I hope their sessions felt encouraging. I feel like a two day affair (one day idea generation, second day action plans and sprints) could do good things in the future.


Congrats to Andrew Hoppin, Noel Hidalgo and the rest of the crew who put this event together. Looking forward to the next one.

There are probably a couple of additional blog posts that could come out of CapitolCamp, but I’ll stick with just one for now.