Oakland techie works to ‘open’ local government data

It’s Tuesday evening at City Hall, and in a conference room scattered people chat animatedly while they start setting up their computers on one of six tables. A guy in his 40s wearing jeans, sneakers and a white beret with green stripes rushes into the room. He is carrying a case of soda and a package of plastic plates in one hand and a box of candies in the other. “Sorry I’m late, guys! Let’s get started,” he says in a very thick Australian accent. This is Steve “Spike” Spiker, the executive director and founder of OpenOakland, and he will run this Civic Hack Night as he has done for the past two years.

OpenOakland, which Spiker co-founded, tries to help Oaklanders be more engaged with each other and their local government. The group attempts to do so by creating digital tools to make the government more “open,” by which Spiker means that the government and staff are accessible—easy to connect with, easy to ask questions of—and that web services are simple to find and use. “It’s vital for trust, for effectiveness and for innovation,” Spiker said.

One of their latest projects, OpenDisclosure, which launched in early September, is helping shed light on the flow of money for Oakland’s mayoral election. The website, built in partnership with the city’s Public Ethics Commission, features campaign finance data submitted by campaigns or by individual donors for all Oakland mayoral candidates. Through tables, maps and charts, Oaklanders can learn which candidate has the highest percentage of contributions from Oakland donors, the percentage of personal funds they used on their campaigns, or who raised the most money in each ZIP code. Continue>>>