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Capitol Code Update: Government API Store


David Ching came to Capitol Code Open Data Jam, hosted by the Minnesota Office of the Secretary of State and Open Twin Cities to network and engage with the local civic tech community. He elected to work on a project pitched to develop a Public Data Ecosystem; part of which included the delivery of a catalog of all government data APIs and datasets known as the API Store.

As a serial entrepreneur with over 35 years experience in technology and a doctorate in civil engineering from the University of Minnesota, it’s not surprising Dave is now gravitating toward dedicating his time and talent to exploring one of the most pressing government tech challenges we’re facing: access to public data.

Funded by taxpayer dollars, government data in Minnesota is, by default, publicly available (exceptions concerning privacy and safety apply). While it is technically possible to get ones hands on government data, it’s not always the most efficient experience, on either side of the transaction.

Issues of accessibility, awareness of available data, and usable formatting challenge end-users, while managing usage and interpretation of the data are some of the concerns that need to be addressed. Along with that, technical concerns of hosting and managing access to the vast quantities of government data, not to mention the resources required to do so, make this a problem without a simple solution.

But a solution is needed. Government data can be used to create all kinds of apps and services that help communities and spark economic growth. From tools that help individuals manage healthcare spending, to online resources that can help businesses decide where to locate in the state, in the right hands and with the right resources, government data can be used to solve all manner of civic challenges, while also creating economic opportunity.

Dave and the Public Data Ecosystem team spent their time at Capitol Code exploring the current state of data availability, the challenges facing data consolidation, and crafting potential solutions that would address the experience on both the provider and user sides. The government API Store would function similar to the Android or iOS app stores where datasets would be cataloged and made available in a “one-stop shop” easily accessed by citizens and others, including commercial providers of apps.

Providing a more efficient warehousing and delivery system for this data is, according to feedback from Capitol Code judge Tom Fisher, Dean of the University of Minnesota College of Design, “so logical.” Following up with the inevitable, “Why hasn’t it already been done?” An exploration of which has help guide Dave and his team to answering the critical question of “how CAN it be done?”

Dave joined Open Twin Cities and began coming to monthly meetups to recruit partners to work on developing the API Store. Having shored up an enthusiastic team, he reached out to James Kauth, Director of Innovation at MN.IT Services to learn more about who from state government to involve, what work is already being done, and how to keep momentum around this project going.

The challenge is compelling, and a great deal of groundwork has been laid in the four months since Capitol Code to begin addressing the challenges that face the development of this increasingly valuable resource: the ins and outs of public/private partnerships on technology projects, who manages the API Store, when/if/how to charge for access to the data.

Dave is planning to have a pilot or working prototype ready to demonstrate by the end of 2014. If you’re interested in learning more about this project or have an idea of you own you’d like to get some traction on, join us June 21-22 at the Nerdery for 2014 Hack for MN, hosted by MN.IT Services and Open Twin Cities, and in partnership with the MN Interagency Council on Homelessness.

Open Twin Cities is a civic tech and design user group that meets monthly to share ideas and work on civic projects. The group is open to anyone interested in attending. You can join us at our June meetup on June 26 at the Metro State Midway Campus - Room P, 1450 Energy Park Drive, St. Paul, MN.