CIVIC Data Platform

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CIVIC Data Platform: Data by the People, for the People
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Team Members Hack Oregon
Point of Contact Catherine Nikolovski, Founder and Executive Director Hack Oregon
Participating Municipalities Kevin Martin, Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability; Shannon Carney, Portland City Budget Office; Bimal Rajbhandary, Portland Housing Bureau; Mark Whitaker, Portland Fire Bureau; Ryan Delbert, Joint Office of Homeless Services; Emily Trisch, Portland Bureau of Transportation
Status Launched
Website http://www.hackoregon.org/civic-projects/
Download NA

Description

CIVIC is an open data platform to democratize public information and drive meaningful engagement through neutral, nonpartisan analytics. It's built entirely by multidisciplinary teams of volunteer coders, designers and domain experts using open source technology.

Challenges

  • Technology is expensive, and very often within a government environment these projects are high risk, hard to manage, and often fail to deliver effectively.
  • It’s hard to move fast when you’re entrenched in bureaucracy, and government has fallen behind common tech industry practices of iterative development.
  • Cities and municipalities have made strides in creating open data resolutions and ordinances, but are still limited when it comes to creating visual, interactive experiences and meaningful outcomes.
  • Data resources are splintered. Without strong data standards and a united goal to design integrated connected systems, investment in one area can become quickly outdated and don’t necessarily translate to large scale progress.
  • Data-driven tech is a highly competitive sector, with private industry struggling to meeting their need for an experienced workforce in fields such as data science, data visualization, and systems architecture.
  • Academia is similarly struggling to meet data gaps in their curriculum and prepare candidates for the competencies needed in the workforce.
  • The enormity of work needed across the nation to update siloed government data sources into a useful format is staggering. Considering the talent needed to create comprehensive reform, especially with a focus on inter-compatibility between disparate systems, it’s hard to imagine a solution on the scale of funding mechanisms typical in the venture-backed private sector. Short term Hackathons haven’t proven effective.

Solutions

  • Civic engages sustained, long term volunteer commitment by delivering a strong call to action, and a cohesive, useful end-product.
  • We provide training to fulfill our own talent pipeline, but our needs have strong cross-over with private industry and has proven an effective model for top tier workforce development.
  • We employ strong data standards across our system, so work done on one project often benefits multiple sectors.
  • All our code is open source, and fully reproducible.
  • From the thousands of applications we receive in Oregon alone, we believe our team methodology and call to action will resonate nationwide and can provide exponential benefit to the labor intensive work of migrating fractured data sources into a connected system.

Major Requirements

  1. Identify high-impact themes with municipal partners: What are high priorities areas that could be served by large-scale engineering power, thoughtful design, and public inclusion?
  2. Create a public call to action: How do we frame a challenge that promotes creativity, engagement, and problem solving along with a reasonable expectation of a quantitative outcome?
  3. Build multidisciplinary core volunteer teams: Seek, vet, and onboard designers, product managers, software engineers, and domain experts to contribute their skills to a well scoped project vision. Core teams may have supplementary support members for particular project phases. All or a portion of this team may require training.
  4. Take an inventory of data across a variety of sources that address the call(s) to action: Government data exists in a variety of different formats, restrictions, and level of difficulty to access. Sometimes teams discover data that would be essential to answering a question doesn’t exist, has high barriers to obtain, is biased, or isn’t the quality you thought it was going into the project. It’s helpful to think about data as a “material” for civic projects, and sometimes illuminating data gaps while centralizing all other available data can create a new and clearer call to action for continued infrastructure building.
  5. Implement a secure cloud database with a set of open,linked APIs: Powerful databases and computational resources can promote many applications. The CIVIC platform visualizes a portion of data through analytics, infographics, browsable portals, but often there is much more data that can be applied toward other uses. We consider the database and API structure as a deliverable of equal importance to our interactive web experience.
  6. Create analytics, data visualizations, and multimedia: features to showcase a story collection around a dynamic civic theme: Hack Oregon is a non-profit in Portland, Oregon that works with volunteers and government to produce meaningful software in the public interest, where the end of a volunteer cycle culminates in a live demo to a theater audience. The focus of the 2018 Demo will be a launch of the CIVIC Platform, seeded with Portland data stories built by Hack Oregon. A core function of the CIVIC Platform is to integrate data sources across multiple regions and stakeholders that can be combined for analysis and visualization in ways that drive insight on themes and stories. This with in mind, CIVIC is keenly aware of ongoing debate and discovery regarding potential use cases and threat models as they relate to government data in a public cloud. As our platform encourages data sources to be accessible, machine readable, and publicly available whenever possible, we are optimistic about how that data may be used to gain insight and potential for the CIVIC Platform serve as a test bed for innovating security standards and best practices for open data in cities.

Performance Targets

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) Measurement Methods

For participating cities, we can bring 100% of existing digital public data into a secure, maintainable, and machine readable format. When data is designed to be integrated, live, and relational across domains, it reduces time, investment, and production risk of creating applications to serve specific goals. For example, when addressing a KPI such as reducing ambulance travel by 30%, what we might mean to ask is “How do we reduce the time between 911 call and arrival at an emergency care facility?”. In many cities, there is no shared data link between 911 Dispatch (often County), Fire Response vehicle (often City), Ambulance travel (often private), and Hospital intake (HIPAA protected). In order to create meaningful performance indicators, we need to value an integrated approach to systems architecture that can drive inquiry, focus, and exponential insight.

The measurement of success of the Civic data platform is to comprehensively transform how data is perceived and shared as actionable between government sectors, and the people they serve.

Standards, Replicability, Scalability, and Sustainability

A core function of the CIVIC Platform is to integrate data sources across multiple regions and stakeholders that can be combined for analysis and visualization in ways that drive insight on themes and stories. This with in mind, CIVIC is keenly aware of ongoing debate and discovery regarding potential use cases and threat models as they relate to government data in a public cloud. As our platform encourages data sources to be accessible, machine readable, and publicly available whenever possible, we are optimistic about how that data may be used to gain insight and potential for the CIVIC Platform serve as a test bed for innovating security standards and best practices for open data in cities.

Cybersecurity and Privacy

Protecting against a security breach:

  • When working with government and third party vendors, the first and most important strategy to protect the integrity of raw data is to ensure original owners of these sources are implementing strong security standards to uphold the custodianship of their own data.
  • In addition to storing data securely, it is important to recognize best practices for sharing data securely. Encouraging encrypted disks and API access keys from the point of origin helps to reduce risk by managing permissions through the life cycle of data and how it may be used or shared in the future.
  • When we do ingress data on the CIVIC Platform, it is always stored in an encrypted format that can only be accessed through strict access control policies. This protects the data from a breach as well as the possibility of a bad actor working on the Civic Platform.
  • The Civic Platform allows unprivileged users to query the secret data stores by either stripping records of PII or returning sufficiently aggregated data to anonymize individuals that match the aggregation criteria.
  • The Civic Platform never creates APIs or websites that access secret data stores. Intermediate data stores are created that only contain anonymous data that results from unprivileged querying as described above.

Impacts

If the CIVIC data platform seeks to galvanize massive grassroots volunteer effort to build public technology infrastructure for data applications, then successful implementation goes beyond the permutations of how data can be used as a tool on an individualized basis. When the American people are recognized and treated as a vastly creative and participatory support system, the success metric becomes and overall improvement in trust and the relationship between people and their government.

Demonstration/Deployment

CIVIC is currently in a beta release, and we have implemented five data story collections with five early adopter partners in Portland. At the Global Tech Jam Conference, we will host a theater event to launch and Demo the CIVIC Platform live, with data tools and stories on the following themes:

  • Disaster Resilience
  • Transportation Systems
  • Affordable Housing
  • Local Elections
  • Neighborhood Development

At the Demo we will announce our transition to a nationally focused model to support other cities using and implementing the CIVIC Platform. This includes a name and branding change for our non- profit from Hack Oregon to the Civic Software Foundation. The CIVIC Software Foundation will engage cities in a membership model throughout the second half of 2018, with the goal of announcing 10 early adopter member cities at the Winter Expo of 2018.