North Texas Cities Partner with Tech Communities at Open Data Day

Cities around North Texas—including Dallas, Denton, Fort Worth, Addison, and Frisco—will collaborate with citizens, data scientists, programmers, and public officials to address community issues through open data on March 2 at the daylong hackathon.

There’s so much data being generated these days, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. The data could be from a crowdsourced traffic app like Waze, from vehicle-mounted cameras, or from a dozen departments within a municipality.

A lot of good data goes unused or can’t be found just because there’s so much out there, and because cities don’t always prioritize easy access to data.

But, DFW Open Data Day 2019 aims to wrangle in that data in new and exciting ways. Cities throughout North Texas, including Dallas, Denton, Fort Worth, Addison, and Frisco, have issued challenges to use open data to work on a problem or pain point during a day-long hackathon. The North Central Texas Council of Governments will be there, along with an army of coders and other specialists to try to help find solutions.

“This event pushes cities to share the data they collect so people can use it for good things,” says Jesse Hamner, a software engineer at BloomReach Global and a board member at TechMill, the Denton-based nonprofit that focuses on building community via networking, events, and education that hosts the event. “There’s a ton of people who already want to help. They have the skills to help, and so spend 8 to 10 hours to do something good for the community.” Participants tend to come back the next year, too.

The 2018 DFW Open Data event was held in Denton. [Photo: via TechMill on Twitter]

Examples of problems that could be solved include examining raw data from Waze to better predict the likelihood of a traffic accident, or analyzing photos from cameras installed on vehicles in Lewisville: artificial intelligence software can tell the difference between a manhole and a pothole, or between a crack and a seam in the pavement, from these photos. That information is then used to prioritize where to send repair crews.

For cities, Open Data Day is a “great test bed” to try something at no cost, so they don’t have to set aside money in the budget, Hamner says.

Abdulrahman Habib, a PhD student, teaching fellow, technology project manager at the University of North Texas, and a board member at TechMill, says he found that many cities get phone calls from people asking who their city council representative is. Participants at the hackathon developed a chatbot that can ask the resident for their address and then find their representative.

TechMill President Kyle Taylor followed: “It uses available public information, but by parsing the data into structured content using natural language processing, and identifying keywords, we can provide the answer in a much friendlier and more efficient way.”

In previous years, the hackathon was held in Denton, but for 2019 has moved to Dallas and expanded to include an education track to teach people how to find and use open data.

“Open Data Day is our attempt to grow the event into a region-wide effort in order to increase participation and the scope of our impacts,” Taylor says.

[Photo: via TechMill on Twitter]

The annual Open Data Day is from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on March 2 at the J. Erik Jonsson Central Library in downtown Dallas. Attendees must register here.

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