Local Boards

In November of 2013, I attended (along with about 50 others) Hack Omaha III, a civic hacking event. The purpose of the event was to bring together those interested in taking public data (which the organizers helped acquire in advance) and building a product which helps make the data relatable, and potentially interactive.

There were many cool projects including an interactive public transit map, food inspection data, and school data dashboards. You can read more about the event here and more about Open Nebraska here.

The project I was involved in, was creating a single place for Douglas County's boards and commissions. To this day, each government board with elected representatives handle their meetings, qualifications, openings, and data separately in disparate formats. Some in Word documents, PDFs, spreadsheets, and text files. None of these are easily consumable - which is only the start of the public's problem.  Not only do members of the public need to know where this data exists, they also need to know which boards exist.

Our project aims to solve these problems by creating a single location for Douglas County (which could then expand to additional markets) boards to store member data, meeting times and locations, openings, qualifications, descriptions, and more. This ambitious proposal was presented by one of the organizers who had a vested interest in the success of the project, so we knew we had to deliver.

After working all day over a Saturday/Sunday period, we had a demo ready. We had three members devoted to scraping data from PDFs, spreadsheets, and more into our organized schema. Two more people architecting our data. A development lead was helping organize our resource devoted to building the API, and myself building the front-end. None of us ever claimed to be the best at our jobs - but that's the beauty of a hackathon. Everyone comes together to apply their skills for the good of the community, while also learning new tricks.

Thus, localboards was born. At presentation-time, we had only a read-only, bare-bones UI and API. Demonstrating plausibility was all we needed and we were able to impress. With the Omaha Chamber of Commerce on board, we now have buy-in from the City to help guide this product to an eventual usable interface for maintaining and normalizing this data.

We are still working hard on bringing this vision to life. Updates to come.

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