Open data initiative expands

 By Bill Silverfarb Daily Journal

San Mateo County is looking for a few good women and men to tap into mounds of data in a continuing effort to streamline government and save taxpayer money.

The county has launched an Open Data Portal that stores all types of information including where hidden hiking trails are located, how much energy cities use or even if the county owes you money.

The county’s pledge to provide transparency led to the hiring of John Ridener as its first open data community liaison who just oversaw an all-day hackathon in June. The hackathon assembled programmers to use technology to help solve some of the county’s “big-picture problems.”

Developers, engineers, entrepreneurs, students, techies, activists, designers and county residents were all invited to participate in June’s Hack-SMC.

Ridener will now host a monthly civic tech meetup that started Tuesday, July 21, to expand on the one-day event’s efforts.

“It’s an opportunity to leverage the expertise and experience of the tech industry to improve how government delivers services,” Ridener said.

It’s not limited to those who are only tech savvy, however.

“Anyone interested can come whether they code or not,” Ridener said.

In San Francisco, open data has led to some efficiencies in the city’s CalFresh food stamp program, he said.

People were falling off the rolls and there is a cost associated with getting them back into the program not to mention the time they go without the subsidy, Ridener said.

A simple application was developed that sends a text message to CalFresh participants that notifies them when their benefits are about to run out.

By changing a communication method, the city saves money and people get the critical benefits they need, he said.

In San Mateo County, the public has access to information uploaded from 20 departments such as the number of library visits by branch per year, unemployment data by city, budget information and census tract demographics free of charge.

“I like to look at spreadsheets all day but most people don’t,” Ridener said about the type of person who may be interested in participating in the civic tech meetups.

Open data can be defined as the idea that certain data should be freely available for anyone to use and republish as they wish, without restrictions from copyright, patents or other mechanisms of control.

The county’s Open Data Portal is at:

The civic tech meetup is 6 p.m., Tuesday, July 21, 455 County Center, room 101, Redwood City.

(650) 344-5200 ext. 102

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