Launching the Upstate Data Project

Mark Headd
3 min readJul 22, 2016
Photo courtesy of Flickr user chrisinphilly5448

My wife and I decided to move our family back to Upstate New York almost two years ago.

One of the first things I wanted to do when I got home was become more involved in the local technology community and figure out how I could bring some of the things I had learned in Philadelphia to my hometown. Central New York has a growing hacking community — one that I was fortunate enough to be exposed to before moving back — and some really visionary thinkers in city government.

Central New York and Upstate have problems for sure, but the region also has people that care and want to work to make it better. I’d had the chance to meet some of those people through Hack Upstate and Open Hack Syracuse, and I decided to launch an effort to build a civic hacking community in Syracuse. Over the past year or so, apps have been built, data has been scraped, hackathons have been held and I think there is a growing interest by people in the technology community to use their skills to address real problems facing our region.

This past Spring at Hack Upstate — one of the area’s premiere technology events, drawing people from across Upstate New York — the winning project selected by judges was an app to help people find their polling location. It uses data from an open data API that pulls in information from the Onondaga and Monroe County election websites.

Civic technology in Central New York seems to be coming into its own in 2016.

But this year has also been one of deep introspection in the civic tech community, and new models for governments to work with technology communities to address civic issues are emerging. It feels like the right time to think critically about the approach we take in fostering collaboration between governments and the civic tech community in Upstate.

I’m convinced that one area where we can move the needle on civic tech is to develop practical strategies for government officials to use in reaching out to and engaging with those in civic tech. This issue is particularly acute in areas like Upstate that often don’t have a long tradition of civic hacking or may have smaller, more dispersed tech communities.

That’s why I’ve decided to sunset Open Syracuse and launch what I’m calling the Upstate Data Project. My initial goal for this project was to develop a set of very practical strategies that government officials in Upstate can use to make better use of data. The initial version of this playbook explicitly focuses on creating new relationships with outside technologists to help them use data to do new things.

I hope to iterate on this playbook rapidly and improve it based on the experience of local officials that use it. It’s early days right now, but I’m excited for what’s ahead.

I’m also working on a new handbook for government officials that I hope will provide useful guidance on reaching out to and working with outside technologists and innovators.

Together, I hope these projects will help the civic tech and open data movements grow in Central and Upstate New York. This is a pivotal time in our community, and there are so many talented and passionate people here that want to lend their efforts and their voices to the important decisions that lie ahead.

It’s good to be back home.

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