Data Days Cleveland Celebrates Open Data, Looks Ahead to Positive Community Impact

 |   Taylor Henschel, Microsoft Fellow in Cleveland

Over 200 data practitioners, non-profit organizations, community members and public servants came together on April 5 and 6 for the second annual convening of Data Days CLE. In partnership with Microsoft and other community sponsors, the two day conference is a celebration of the Cleveland Civic Tech + Open Data Collaborative’s mission to cultivate an inclusive civic technology ecosystem, promote open data, and engage the region to improve the lives of those in Northeast Ohio.

Held at JumpStart, Inc., and the newly opened MidTown Tech Hive, a nationally recognized accelerator and co-working/innovation space respectively, the conference featured 70 diverse speakers covering a wide range of topics related to data and its impact on civic life. Participants were engaged around topics including data and public policy, the use of blockchain for social impact, the use of environmental data and non-profit data for community benefit, as well as other unique discussions including data as it pertains to the business of beer, and data use in professional sports. 

Data Days also brought a strong focus on tangible skill-building and offered a series of workshops around topics including web scraping, map making, and data visualization. Moreover, Data Days featured a cluster of ‘Data Resource Islands’ where participants could gain hands-on experience using various open data resources like OhioCheckBook.com, HealthDataMatters.org, and Case Western Reserve University’s Northeast Ohio Community and Neighborhood Data for Organizing (NEO CANDO) tool.

On the second and final day of the conference, we were joined by a stellar cast of judges and six entrepreneur finalists for the region’s first ever civic tech pitch competition. Each finalist was given five minutes to pitch their idea in front of our live audience and a panel of six judges that included:

  • Kevin Kelley, President, Cleveland City Council
  • Dr. Melissa Burrows, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Equal Opportunity
  • Erin Horne McKinney, Managing Partner of Inclusion, JumpStart, Inc.
  • Dorothy Baunach, Chief Executive Officer, DigitalC
  • Denise Williams, Data Scientist & Service Delivery Manager, IBM Watson Health

At the end of our two days of data ideation, hearts and minds full of data passion and civic pride, we concluded with a facilitated wrap-up and look ahead. The takeaway: Cleveland faces a unique set of challenges around the adoption of data practices and civic technology, and as a result, there is a tremendous opportunity for positive community impact. In my role as a Microsoft Civic Engagement Fellow and co-chair of the Data Days Planning Committee, this resonants particularly true and serves as a call to action. Microsoft’s commitment to working in the areas of civic technology, non-profit and workforce development, computer science skills, and race and criminal justice reform lends tremendous fortitude to ensuring that these conversations not only continue, but that they move forward with measurable community impact.

As we move into the weeks and months following Data Days, the real work begins. Alongside organizations like the Cleveland Civic Tech + Open Data Collaborative, I excitedly look forward to drawing upon my background in public service, paired with the tools, resources, and expertise of the Microsoft Cities Team, to move our community forward.