Techies planning to hack into Pittsburgh's databases in June are asking city residents to help them use that public information for public benefit.
Pittsburgh Thinkathon 2013, which kicks off June 1, will give local programmers access to information on transit, neighborhood demographics, public safety, parks and recreation, and general operations for city and county entities. Those programmers will then have 48 hours to create an app, website, or general plan for a technology that can improve life for city residents.
The idea, said co-organizer Paul Burke, is to ask residents to determine which information can be used to benefit their neighborhood or the city at large. Organizers already have collected dozens of suggestions through the thinkathon.co website, but they are seeking as many as possible in preparation for the big day.
"We want to first try to activate ideas from the community of what the community would like to see changed," said Mr. Burke, who is also managing partner of East Liberty-based venture accelerator Thinktiv. "The goal is, at the end of the weekend, there's actually technical answers to problems that a bunch of activated, civically minded developers, designers and business people have organized to solve."
Considering that those developers and designers will have thousands of pages of information at their fingertips, the scope of potential ideas is being limited to those involving public safety, health and welfare, leisure and lifestyle, and general operations.
However, those subjects can be applied to anything from Port Authority transit arrival information to census figures detailing the high school graduation rates of individual communities.
One example offered by Mr. Burke is the idea of a system that uses transit schedules and real-life arrival times to determine when a bus will actually reach an individual stop. He added that some data may point to environmental or social solutions that would only be noticed by someone with a direct link to the issue.
The Thinkathon is the result of a collaboration between Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's office, Allegheny County, Pittsburgh DataWorks, local tech startup site BuiltinPgh and RustBuilt, an initiative designed to promote technological advancement in former Rust Belt cities.
It is also being held in conjunction with the National Day of Civic Hacking.
Co-organizer Kit Mueller, co-founder of RustBuilt, said the trend toward open-source government data is growing across the globe as officials see the potential for data being used in positive ways.
This year, the White House is inviting developers to create an app using its We The People application program interface, and the National Archives and Records Administration is asking for a program using "visualizations, interactive maps and mashups with historical datasets" to create a new format for presenting information.
"Usually data's trapped up in the ivory tower. Now that we can do this on the municipal level and city level, I think it will be a little more tangible for people," Mr. Mueller said.
The 2013 Pittsburgh Thinkathon is sponsored by Thinktiv, Downtown-based venture capital firm Draper Triangle Ventures, South Oakland-based Pittsburgh Technology Council, Oakland-based marketing firm Thinkerous, RustBuilt and Web developer Cameron H. Scott.
For more information and to submit ideas, visit thinkathon.co.
Deborah M. Todd: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1652.