Gavin Clark, 2015 CityCamp NC Winner

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Most 10-year-old kids likely spent their first full day of summer celebrating at the pool, sleeping in, or playing with friends. Instead of joining them, Gavin Clark (pictured above) kicked off his summer break at CityCamp NC immersed in code, history and maps.

And that decision paid off. Not only did he walk away from CityCamp with new skills, but he and his teammate/father, Will Clark, took home first prize and $2,500 cash among other prizes.

Their winning idea? An interactive map that displays all the historic land markers (the plaques on posts in front of historic sites, buildings and homes), and the information displayed on them, located throughout the state.

Users can find markers closest to their location and use gps technology to walk to them. They can also zoom in to view a marker and read its description. The Clarks even created a suggested walking tour around Raleighstate capitol building, and hope to add more tours as they continue building the site.

The young Clark had learned some coding prior to the event through summer camp and his dad regularly uses ESRI maps in his position in commercial real estate. But the tool was pretty impressive considering the limited amount of time (one day) they had to build it.

Clarks win exemplifies CityCamps down-to-earth, open and collaborative spirit. I was privileged and honored to attend the event and serve as a judge for the competition. Heres my preview story of the event, and below are three major takeaways after witnessing it first hand.

Anyone Who Wants to Improve their Community is Welcome at CityCamp

Jason Hibbets, the co-chair for the event, told me prior to CityCamp that anyone who was passionate about or had an idea for improving their community should attend. He said government employees, politicians, entrepreneurs, techies and non-techies were welcome.

I, however, was a bit skeptical on how many people from each group, especially government, would show up. As someone who has worked in government for several years, I found it hard to believe that government employees would attend an event where a spotlight is shone on their inefficiencies and non-government folks are invited to propose solutions.

But not only was the crowd packed, it was indeed as diverse as Hibbets described. The crowd heard from government employees from several different municipalities across the state. Several city councilors attended. There were techies and non-techies, women and men, and people of all colors. Clark wasnt the only kid who attended eithera group of high school students enrolled in Raleighs digital connectors program attended, pitched sessions for the unconference and worked on projects with the brigades and competing teams throughout the weekend.

Ideas to solve the government and city issues were varied and plentiful, ranging from an app to give students and parents real time information on school bus location, to a one-stop-shop for open data requests to live. But the common thread throughout was a focus on improving communities.

CityCampNC 2015, Working Group
2015 CityCamp NC Working Session; Photo Credit: CityCamp NC

The Open Mentality, and Specifically Open Source is Important for Building the Movement

While kicking off the sessions on Friday, Hibbets laid out a bold and ambitious goalto open up government data in all 100 North Carolina counties by 2025.

He outlined the connectivity disparity between North Carolinas biggest cities and counties and its most rural, explaining the big challenge of having ubiquitous open data across North Carolina. Still, he expressed the importance of that goal.

And not only does the size of the counties and their governments vary, so does their knowledge of open data. Many municipalities in North Carolina dont have an IT director, and as of 2014, at least 20 counties didnt either. Without technical support in the counties and municipalities, expanding open data will be difficult at best.

But, open source, replicable software and processes could still enable the counties and municipalities without technical expertise to open their data. As North Carolinas biggest cities and counties continue to expand their offerings, it will be important to create a replicable, simple process that can be shared with the most resource-poor areas of the state.

Collaboration and Humility are Plentiful at CityCamp

In a room full of experts from various fields, one might expect egos to prevent collaboration and progress from happening.

But at CityCamp, there seems to be an unsaid rule to check your ego at the door. Either that, or the group of attendees are naturally extraordinarily humble. The collaboration and sense of community I witnessed was striking.

For example, Mark Headd, the keynote speaker and former (and first) chief data officer for one of the largest cities in the country, Philadelphia, didnt take the typical keynote approach of flying in just in time and leaving directly after his presentation. He attended nearly the entire event. He even pitched in and helped on the brigade projects Saturday.

CityCampNC 2015, Bonner Gaylord
Raleigh City Councilor Bonner Gaylord addresses crowd at 2015 CityCamp NC; Photo Credit: CityCamp NC

Bonner Gaylord, the Raleigh City Councilor who was instrumental in bringing CityCamp to North Carolina, also attended most of the event, sat with other participants and often took notes. He also pitched an idea and led a discussion during the un-conference portion of the event on preparing Raleighs transportation systems for self-driving cars.

During Saturdays work day, coders worked with non-coders and government employees worked with citizens to flesh out ideas and create tools. At the end of the day, eight teams presented their ideas in the competition, and progress was made on five existing projects spearheaded by the local Code for America brigades.

The presence of Todd Lewis, the head organizer for the All Things Open Conference, highlights the overall open movements commitment to collaboration. Lewis lives in South Carolina and attended the event to support and assist North Carolinas open movement. He manned the microphone for much of the day so Hibbets could focus on other duties. And All Things Open was one of the events major sponsors.

Clarks acceptance and eventual win at CityCamp is perhaps the best example of these core values embraced by CityCamp and the broader open movement. The fact that a 10-year-old was allowed to attend, much less compete, shows that the come-one-come-all language organizers and open data leaders use is more than just rhetoric. The Clarks ability to use and build on top of ESRIs open source mapping software is evidence of the impact that user-friendly, open source software can have in solving civic problems. And the willingness of organizers and other participants to help Gavin and others build their projects is evidence of the collaborative, check your ego at the door, spirit present in the open community.

While the future is always unknown, even for CityCamp NC and the open movement, as long as the groups can continue to embrace these values, they will ensure some level of success in their efforts to improve their local and neighboring communities through the open movement.