How the Census Bureau evangelizes open data

Apps using open data to solve civic problems were showcased at Census Bureau demo day.

Shutterstock image (by Sergey Nivens): Businesswoman surrounded by financial data.

The five finalists in the Census Bureau’s open data challenge showcased their apps during the bureau’s first ever National Demo Day on Aug. 13, highlighting how they used open data from the census to tackle a multitude of social problems.

During the webinar presentation, Census Bureau CTO Avi Bender Commerce Department Chief Data Officer Ian Kalin said they hoped federal agencies would take note of the solutions.

“We need to find a way to share these stories more broadly,” Kalin said.

One of the finalists, Disabled Accessibility Score, developed in Minneapolis, uses open census data to allow people with disabilities to find the best places to live or travel in Minnesota. The app lets users search accessibility scores of five data sets: mobility, housing, hospital, safety and community.

“I can think of many different federal agencies at this very moment [that] aren’t even aware of this and could use this application,” said Bender. “It has tremendous implications in health care and veterans affairs.”

The Purshables mobile app, based in Chicago, aims to connect grocery stores that have older food they haven’t sold yet with people in the community who would buy it. Fruits and veggies have a limited shelf life, and most grocery stores put produce that hasn’t been sold in time in the garbage. The app lets users know when and where perishable food is going on sale.

“They are able to sell food that they previously threw away and customers are able to buy food at an affordable price so we’re tackling both food accessibility and food waste,” said Elizabeth Zubiate, a co-creator of Purshables.

While some of the apps tackle sustainability and accessibility issues, others are geared toward providing solutions for simple — yet still crucial — problems, such as what to have for lunch. Hyperlocal uses real-time Twitter feeds and neighborhood boundary data to help food truck operators in Washington, D.C., find customers. The app leverages tweets, so if a bunch of people in the Federal Triangle area of D.C. are tweeting about lunch, food truck operators know where to go.

Other finalists include Civic Spark, an AirBnb-meets-Yelp app for civic tech leaders and entrepreneurs to easily find free or low-cost spaces, and Austin Park Equity, an app that shows where the nearest parks are in the city.

The Census Bureau launched the contest June 6, to coincide with the rollout of CitySDK (Software Development Kit) a project developed with the White House Presidential Innovation Fellows program that developed an app to provide a user-friendly way for the public and organizations to access Census data.

You can vote for a winner among the five finalists until Aug. 20.

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