Just finished a weekend at Transparency Camp 2012. As with lots of these types of conferences (PrivacyCamp and Freedom2Connect come to mind), I approach these as something of an outsider – I’m tech-curious, but by no means experienced. In the end, I’m just a lawyer, and my expertise in methods often feels a world away from from the folks focused on APIs, datasets, and the latest visualisation tools. They say API, and I’m all APA! One of the big to-dos I came away with was to come to next year’s event prepared for a “I am not your lawyer, BUT . . . ” session.
Still, I felt it an incredibly worthwhile expenditure of my time. I feel like we’re hitting the hook on the hockey stick graph, with progress shooting up as we get more people that “get it” in government* and as we simply get more quality work out of those working with the datasets. CivicCommons.org? Sweet. OpenPlans? Yes, please. MapBox? Wow.
One of the biggest things? I was blown away by the amount of personal time and effort put into making tools for better government. All sectors benefit, to some extent, from the personal contributions of people involved with them. But there were people who had flown from the other side of the planet, on their own dime, to participate in a conference so they could invest yet *more* personal time in something that would ultimately benefit more people than would ever be able to thank them. I’m not sure that’s sustainable, but damn is it encouraging.
Finally, I want to give some shouts to some local gov’t folks that showed up to this. Montgomery County’s Hans Reimer led a great session on day one. Alexandria’s Craig Fifer not only killed it with chicken, but did a great job in presenting on the myths and truths of pushing for transparency in local government. There were also some DC .gov folks there, but I sadly didn’t get too much of a chance to interact with them. And really, I regret not roping any Arlington County folks into this, but you can be sure I won’t make that same mistake twice.
*I don’t have enough experience that I could honestly defend challenges to this premise that went more than a few rounds, but . . . man, the gov’t folks I see attending this conference now? Exponentially more with it than the folks I encountered in my municipal broadband days (’03-05).