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Citizen Labs: How a group of data geeks, developers & designers are making GR more transparent




During a time in our country when the topic of government is in most headlines, there is a group in Grand Rapids that is connecting everyday citizens with civic data. Started by an all-volunteer group of developers, designers, data geeks, and others, Citizen Labs was founded in June 2016 with the mission to connect Grand Rapidians with open data and open source technology to improve their communities.

Founding members Jace Browning, Max Dillivan, Traci Montgomery, Lee Mueller, Brandon Klotz, Joel Anderson, and Allen Clark formed Citizen Labs to provide a greater transparency to the civic data -- data from public institutions, like the city government or the police department -- that often feels tangled within inaccessible formats, such as what can be convoluted city websites.

The team has successfully finished two projects in its short existence. The group provided a short description of the completed projects:

Open Budget: Grand Rapids: Launched on June 6, 2016, the Open Budget project promotes a deeper understanding of the city budget of Grand Rapids, so that citizens, officials, and other stakeholders can engage in more informed dialogue about how the city of Grand Rapids currently works and how it should in the future.

Grand Rapids Parks & Recreation Investments: The GR Parks Project launched September 2016 and uses open source OpenStreetMap and data from the city of Grand Rapids to show the parks of the city of Grand Rapids, the tax dollars invested in each park thus far, and details of updates made. The investments in our parks were made possible by dedicated property millage for capital and pool operations, and major repair and rehabilitation of parks and playgrounds that residents of Grand Rapids voted in favor of on November 5, 2013.

Currently the group is still looking over possible projects to take on as a team in 2017. Meet ups are used to work on personal projects or to pitch group projects as well.

The group meets every other Tuesday inside The Factory; these events are free and open to the public. Members say that newcomers do not need to have robust tech experience, but rather have a desire to use data to help our city.

The membership now consists of programmers, designers, planners, community leaders, data geeks, and idea makers, but they encourage diverse backgrounds. Citizen Labs understands that diversity of thought is necessary for innovative solutions. Clark mentions that, “We are looking to grow and connect more with the community for sure in the upcoming year.”

Being technology inclined, a majority of the group’s work is done outside of the meeting times. Their projects and information can be found on their Github page, or you can join the groups conversations on Slack.

Ken Miguel-Cipriano is Rapid Growth’s innovation and jobs editor. To reach Ken, you can email ken.miguel.cipriano@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.
 
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