A Tale of Two Collaboration Spaces

2022 is our first full year we have had our collaboration spaces up and running, including Sky Artworks and Passable, and we have been very excited to see the impact we have already had on the community development in these spaces, in terms of creativity and collaboration. Sky Artworks has a more traditional gallery and studio feel, which better matches the needs and interests of the local creative community. That said, like any maker space it houses a laser cutter, a 3D printer, and CNC router, in addition to large format printers. Our members have been excited to learn and share their work — it is remarkable the spontaneity that happens when the creative space is married to the exhibition space.

Art Show at Sky Artworks

Passable, in the context of Capitol Hill, Seattle, is much more experimental in flavor, with a heavier emphasis on technologically-infused art and pinball, given the important of pinball to our partnering art group at Passable, Totally Legit. That said, it too has maker equipment, a wood shop, and an exhibition space that is most often opened up for the Capitol Hill Art Walk.

Passable during the Chain Gang Collaborative Art Show

Sky Artworks

We are very excited to announce after several years of searching we have successfully found a home for Sky Artworks in the Town of Skykomish! Sky Artworks was just an idea several years ago, as we dreamt of finding a more permanent home to support all our arts-oriented community activities in the mountains. Through a partnership with the Town of Skykomish we have leased the Maloney Store, a historic landmark building in the business center of Town. Months later, after some remodeling, we are almost ready to open!

As stated on the Sky Artworks website, Sky Artworks is an arts-oriented community center with collaboration and exhibition spaces. Our mission is to promote the creative community in the Upper Sky Valley by providing production, exhibition, educational, marketing, and professional development resources for artists, artisans, and tech creatives.

Electric Sky 2018

We are really excited to be hosting Electric Sky again for 2018.  The event has evolved into more than just a hackathon — it is an arts incubator for people at the intersection of art and technology.  Because of the grants and planning that occur prior to the event, the projects are on a larger scale and more coherent than you find in most hackathons.

This year, the theme is the “Digital Frontier”.  Please check it out at

Spokin Focus Group October 18th

To help us prioritize bugs and features to fix and implement in Spokin we are organizing a focus group for October 18th with the help of Open Seattle.  If you are a member of the civic tech community please consider joining!

Community Tech (Spokin) Focus Group

Tuesday, Oct 18, 2016, 6:00 PM

Impact Hub Seattle
220 2nd Ave South Seattle, WA

10 civic nerds Attending

We need your help! We are seeking 10-12 members of the civic tech community to try out our community tech network — Spokin — and provide feedback. Spokin allows you to connect with your local communities — your neighborhood, city, or nearby interest groups — so you can work together to get things done. We have created a “Civic Tech NW” communit…

Check out this Meetup →


City of Seattle’s Investment in Smart City Technology

We were very excited to get an email from Michael Mattmiller, the City of Seattle’s CTO, outlining aspects of Mayor Murray’s proposed 2017-18 budget presented to the city council.  We thought it was worth quoting in full but wanted in particular to direct your attention to paragraph about a smart, data-driven city:

FROM Michael Mattmiller, Chief Technology Officer | City of Seattle

September 26:

Good afternoon,

Today Mayor Murray presented his proposed 2017-18 Budget to the City Council.

This has been a year of transition for the City’s technology functions and staff. The creation of the Seattle Information Technology Department (Seattle IT) provided an opportunity to create the City’s first unified technology budget and provided clarity into IT spending. Creating this budget is no small feat – it required merging 16 budgets into one, coordinating with finance staff from across departments to clarify and align disparate accounting treatments, and standing up a new financial management tool. While many of the methods remained the same, the 2017-18 Seattle IT budget proposal will represent a clean start for how we manage technology spend.

This first consolidated budget is aligned with five strategic priorities that will help advance Seattle IT’s ability to deliver on its objectives and advance technology across the City.

  • System and service maturity. Many of Seattle IT’s services have not evolved at the same pace as the technology advances of the past decade, nor are investments being made to automate service delivery or improve service levels. Focusing on service and system maturity will lower ongoing operational costs and improve the customer experience. The proposed budget includes funding to ensure the City maintains an acceptable level of security and can be more proactive in responding to security threats. It also adds resources to improve the City’s identity management and mobility service offerings – key components in maturing our application and infrastructure operations.
  • Smart, data-driven City. Data has the potential to drive innovation and efficiency, improving both our quality of life and economic productivity.  Unlocking the promise of a smart, data-driven city requires a focus on data governance, consistent tools that facilitate cross-department collaboration, and educating the public on how to leverage the City’s resources. In the 2017-2018 proposed budget, projects such as Seattle Police Department’s data analytics platform and the Human Services Department data-to-decisions database will help those departments make data-driven decisions to improve their services. In addition, investments in our civic technology, open data, and business intelligence programs will allow the City to engage the public and collaborate on solutions that improve our quality of life.
  • Digital Equity. Internet access and the skills necessary to be successful online are vitally important to Seattle residents. In 2016 the City put forth specific strategies and actions, developed by our community-led Digital Equity Action Committee, to bridge this digital divide.  The Initiative is one part of the Mayor’s broadband strategy to increase access, affordability, and public-private-community partnerships. The proposed budget includes additional positions to deliver on our digital equity strategies. In addition, the Mayor’s Youth Participatory budget program allocated funds to increase the number of Wi-Fi hotspots available through the Seattle Public Library’s checkout program, increasing the number of homes that will have internet access.
  • Public experience. Technology can greatly improve the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of government services by facilitating, automating, and streamlining interactions among the public, government employees, service providers, and other stakeholders. The proposed budget includes funding to expand the use of a customer engagement and relationship system and a new grant application system to improve the City’s engagement with the public. The budget also expands the Citywide web team.
  • Optimization. Seattle IT was created to increase the value delivered from the City’s information technology investment. Shared IT functions provide common strategy, structure and key enterprise services across City government.  Through funding in the proposed 2017-18, we will continue to optimizing the department’s structure and change how the City develops and operates applications. We will also continue to invest in enterprise architecture, business relationship management, resource management, and project portfolio management.

In total, the 2017 Proposed Operating Budget for Seattle IT is $203 million with another $42 million in our Capital Improvement Program. Read the Mayor’s budget speech at

I’m proud of our Seattle IT team for all of their achievements in our first six months working together as a new department and excited for what we will achieve through Mayor Murray’s proposed 2017-18 budget. Together we will deliver powerful technology solutions for the City and public we serve.



Michael Mattmiller

Chief Technology Officer | City of Seattle

Director | Seattle Information Technology Department


@SeattleCTO |


Participating in Microsoft’s Hack for Good program

This year we participated in the Microsoft “Hack for Good” subdivision of  their oneweek hackathon, working with several people internal to Microsoft to explore a problem for Spokin.  The Nonprofit Hackathon session was brought to us by Microsoft Philanthropiesthe Garage and 501 Commons, hosted on the Microsoft Campus on May 23rd.

Here was our project blurb:

At Third Place Technologies our mission is to help place-based communities such as neighborhoods effectively collaborate to solve their problems through innovation in community technologies, leveraging new affordances in social media, open data, and tools for collective action.  In urban environments, one of the biggest challenges to developing collaborative relationships is fear of strangers, particularly for those who are different in life stage or demographic variables.  For this project, we seek to develop a match-making tool that helps people connect to neighbors and local places based on common interests that cut across these differences. 

The event organizers provided a fair amount of guidance to help assure project success connecting Microsoft employees to nonprifits.   We had four participants on our project from within Microsoft, and we are very grateful for their contributions!  It was, in a sense, an exploratory research project, and we learned a lot about the potential uses of existing data sources in social media to address this problem space of matching people to places.   Our main challenge was because we could not really participate onsite, the project was largely incubated outside our participation, which presented challenges in knowledge transfer during and afterwards.

Spokin Soft Release Party

This July we hosted a party in the cloud room celebrating the “soft release” of Spokin.   The site is still pretty rough around the edges, but we knew it was time to start engaging users and soliciting feedback as we approach a final release in the fall.


Shelly Farnham, our Executive Director, Demo’d Spokin


Members of our target communities were invited.



An enraptured audience.


Our soft release blurb:

Third Place Technologies invites you to join us to celebrate the soft release of Spokin, our online web site for community-curated networking.  

Networking with a purpose.

Spokin allows you to connect with your local communities — your neighborhood, city, or nearby interest groups — so you can work together to get things done.  For our “soft release”, Spokin community membership will be by invitation only, and we are inviting friends of Third Place Technologies to use Spokin for community engagement activities and provide feedback to us before we release it to the general public this fall.

Try it out at!  Many of its features are open to browsing, but if you want to experience the content creation features you will need be invited into a community group.   Email shelly <at> thirdplacetechnologies dot com for an invitation.

Engaging with Tech Creatives through Electric Sky

We were very happy to help organize and sponsor Electric Sky this June, it has proven to be a great event for engaging with — and fostering the growth of — the community of tech creatives at the intersection of art and technology in the Pacific Northwest.  Here’s the wrap up summary of the event from Recreational Light and Magic, our partner in organizing Electric Sky:

Recreational Light and Magic has been organizing Electric Sky — an art and tech weekend campathon — for the past couple of years in partnership with Third Place Technologies, and with the support of the Town of Skykomish and 4Culture.

The goal of Electric Sky is to foster the community of people collaborating at the intersection of art and technology in the Pacific Northwest.  This year we sought to further this goal by coordinating our efforts around a group installation, the Luminous Garden.

It was a truly fabulous event, and went even better than last year!  We cannot thank everyone enough for all their help.  It is a 100% community-based, volunteer event.  Between helping to organize and set up the event, participating in the creativity lab, and contributing to the Luminous Garden, there was not a single attendee who wasn’t involved in some way.

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Thank You UW Entrepreneurial Law Clinic

We want to express our gratitude to the UW Entrepreneurial Law Clinic for providing a review of our organizing documents and our plans for our intellectual property.  For the most part everything was in order.

The most important heads-up was to be careful when collaborating with volunteers (interns, etc.) who are donating their time in the form of writing code.  We need to clarify in writing the assignment of ownership of intellectual property.  Even if you intend to open source the code, you still need to have it put in writing that the code is yours to open source.

Spokin Visualization at the UW iSchool Capstone Event

This spring we had the opportunity to work with a student group at the UW for an iSchool capstone project.  As a final project before graduation, a team of students created a general purpose network visualization for our Spokin communities using D3.  They wrapped up the project with a poster and demo at the iSchools’ captstone event.

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Thanks Tim, Kevin, Vikram, and Garrett for all your hard work!



Demo’d Spokin at the City of Seattle’s Open Data Policy launch event

Geekwire article

[Source: Geekwire] Seattle Mayor Ed Murray signs an open data executive order on Friday at Impact HUB in downtown Seattle.


As users of the City of Seattle’s open data, we’ve been really excited about the proactive stance the City has been taking toward increasing transparency and engagement with citizens through their Open Data program.   They recently “launched” a new Open Data Policy, formalized by having the Mayor sign the document, and where we were invited to demo Spokin.

A few people in the audience were asking “why is this important”, and here’s the article on Geekwire summarizing the event.

I think however the best summary of why it is important came from Michael Mattmiller’s email invitation to the event, which is excerpted here (I was assured, all of their emails are considered public):

At this week’s State of the City speech, Mayor Ed Murray announced his commitment to open data and his intention to sign an executive order making Seattle “Open by Preference”. I invite you to join us for the signing of the Mayor’s Open Data Executive Order on Friday, February 26th at 9 am at Impact Hub (220 2nd Ave S, Seattle, WA).

The executive order, and the new City Open Data Policy it implements, notes that we will strive to make data collected or generated by the City available to the public through our open data portal, This is a major step forward for our Open Data Program, which today contains more than 440 datasets. Our new Policy is a product of collaboration between the City of Seattle, the Sunlight Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies’ What Works Cities, the University of Washington, and many of you. Highlights from the new policy include:

* Data will be published in a machine-readable format, wherever possible

* Planning for data publication should occur when planning for new projects and programs

* Departments will appoint Open Data Champions who will be accountable for maintaining their department’s data catalog and ensuring that published data is refreshed on a regular basis

* A recognition that stakeholders must be engaged to prioritize datasets for release and ensure that the data best fits intended uses

* Datasets will be reviewed for privacy considerations prior to publishing, and the entire Open Data Program will undergo an annual risk assessment to identify potential data aggregation concerns

The full text of the policy is published to our site at this link.

“Open by preference” is a standard that balances the City’s desire to be as open as possible with our commitments to protecting privacy and security. This is an issue many municipal governments have faced and is often cited as the primary reason not to pursue an open data policy. By proving that it is possible to be open while protecting privacy and security, the City of Seattle is opening a path for other cities, including our neighbors in Bellevue and Tacoma, who have also been working with the Sunlight Foundation through Bloomberg Philanthropies’ national What Works Cities initiative to stand up their own open data policies in the coming year.

As we implement our new policy, we look forward to engaging you and a broad set of stakeholders to prioritize datasets to be made open, better understand use cases, and release data in formats that increase usability.

Please RSVP  to [email removed]  if you are able to join us. Thank you again for your ongoing input, engagement, and support.



Michael Mattmiller
Chief Technology Officer | City of Seattle
Director | Department of Information Technology

The most novel aspect of this policy is the “Open by preference” component, where each department will be in a position to assess the risks associated with publishing their data, and take the necessary steps to mitigate the risk.  Here are the three sections of the policy that speak to this directly:

Section 1: Open by Preference

E. While a preference is towards making all data public, some data elements if released, especially in bulk, could cause privacy harms, put critical infrastructure at risk, or put public safety personnel and initiatives at risk. City departments and offices should use tools provided by the Open Data Program to assess risk as part of determining datasets to be released.

F. The requirements set forth in the policy shall be integrated into the Municipal Information Technology Investment Evaluation (MITIE) process, questionnaire and checklists to help facilitate consistent identification and publishing of datasets as the City plans for the implementation of new technologies and systems.

G. Should the Open Data Program discover that data is being used in ways that violate privacy, puts the public at risk, or contravene the Program’s goals, the City of Seattle and parties acting on its behalf have the right and responsibility to take any action necessary to mitigate these risks.

My hope is some of this open by preference sentiment will percolate down to individual people themselves — that is, as they provide data, they are given the open to share it or not.  I think, if framed appropriately in how their can really help the City and its citizens make smarter decisions, a lot of people would be quite happy to share data that might be considered too sensitive at the departmental level.


Ignite Talk: The Data is In: (Top 5 Ways) How to Improve your Neighborhood Community’s Wellbeing

Ignite Talk at #is29

Ignite Talk at #is29

Our Executive Director Shelly Farnham gave an Ignite talk last week to a sold out house of over 800 people at Town Hall last week.  Below is the video, and a slightly extended version of the talk in text.

The Data Is In:  How to Improve Your Neighborhood Community’s Wellbeing

Greetings everyone!  I’m a social psychologist by training, a research scientist specializing in community technology research and development.  At Third Place Technologies, in the past couple years, we have been exploring how to leverage new technologies to really quantify and improve neighborhood community wellbeing.

Membership in a Vital Community is a Strong Predictor of Happiness

Membership in a Vital Community is a Strong Predictor of Happiness

Predictors of Happiness in Seattle

I’m a big believer in the power of a thriving community to positively affect our quality of life.  Past research has shown that participating in a vital community, characterized by interpersonal trust, social support, and citizen engagement, is one of the strongest predictors of a person’s happiness.

More Urban = Less Connected

Ironically, in larger cities such as Seattle, research also shows that the more urban the environment, the less connected we are.  Even though there are more people per square foot, we have fewer friends within walking distance than those in more suburban or rural neighborhoods.   This is especially true in Seattle – you have all heard of the Seattle “freeze” – it can be really hard to connect here.

Take the Zombie Apocalypse Test

Communities are not only important for happiness, they can make the difference between life and death in crisis situations.  I want you to ask yourself this – I like to call this the Zombie Apocalypse Test – if there were, say, a Zombie Apocalypse, do you know and trust enough people within walking distance that you could successfully band together to not only fight off the Zombie Horde, but also to recreate society as we know it?

Chances are – probably not.

What Can You Do?

So, what can you do?  As a citizen, a community organizer, or a local business, what can you do to improve the wellbeing of your neighborhood community?  As we are building toward our future here in the Pacific Northwest, what can we be doing to assure we are all members of happy, thriving communities of mutual trust and social support, with the strength to withstand any crisis situation?

Third Place Technologies /

Helping you answer this question is a primary goal for us at Third Place Technologies, where our mission is to foster community wellbeing through innovation in technology.  Our main project is, an online civic network designed to help you connect with your local communities, but also, more importantly, to help you better understand what factors impact your neighborhood’s wellbeing and start a dialogue around what you should seek to change.

We are doing this through interactive neighborhood report cards.

The Research

In order to scientifically quantify a neighborhoods wellbeing, we have been performing a lot of research, and analyzing a lot of data.  Lots, and Lots of data, including self-report interviews and questionnaires, social media such as Twitter and Facebook, and open data, such as from the U.S. census or crime reports.  We are weeks away from making Spokin public, at which time I strongly encourage you to check out your neighborhood’s report card, which looks something like this.


Community Wellbeing Report Pages — Metrics on the Left, Map Showing How Your Neighborhood Compares on the Right

Neighborhood Community Well-being Report Pages

Factors that meaningfully impact wellbeing are on the left, and a map visualizing how your neighborhood compares to other neighborhoods is on the right.  Today, for the rest of this talk, I want to share with you our top recommendations for what you can do improve your neighborhood’s wellbeing based on what we’ve learned from our research.

Recommendation #1.  Join the Conversation!

First, a necessary condition of a thriving community is that people know each other and regularly interact.  In most neighborhoods there is already a conversation happening about local issues – in coffee shops, town meetings, or online – and our top recommendation is simply that you find and join this conversation.  It is not enough that you observe this conversation, it’s important that you have a voice and express your opinions.

Face-to-face is Best, but Online Works Too

Face to face interactions are always more impactful, however online interactions are effective as well.  Our research shows that social media can be an effective tool to help compensate for a lack of face-to-face interactions – such as found in more urban environment – but again, only if you are expressing yourself and actively conversing with others.

Recommendation #2.  Hang Out in Third Places

This raises the question, where are you going to find these conversations.  It turns that Third Places are another important feature of thriving communities.  A Third Place is a place outside the home, or outside of work, such as a coffee shop, restaurant, or park, where people can meet serendipitously, and through frequent exposure to each other be transformed from strangers to friends.

Third Places are breeding grounds of community.

Your job is figure out where the locals hang out in your neighborhood, and then go hang out there.

Successful Neighborhoods Have Many Third Places Clustered Together

Successful Neighborhoods Have Many Third Places Clustered Together

CREATE Third Places

A successful neighborhood will have a lot of these Third Places, and we have found, the more they are all clustered together, such as seen here in the University District, the better it is for the neighborhood, because that area itself becomes a Third Place, increasing all that fabulous serendipity on the streets.  If you do not have this pattern of third places in your neighborhood – you need to create one.  Start a local business, a park, or something more temporary, like a street fair or block party.

Recommendation #3. Invest in Your Hyper-local Economy

Not too surprisingly, the economic success of your neighborhood strongly impacts the community.  Our third recommendation is that you invest in the micro economy of your neighborhood. Spend locally, work locally, hire locally.  On a related note, the average education of your residents also meaningfully impacts community wellbeing, so keep your kids in school, and support youth education initiatives.

Extreme Wealth is not Good for your Hood

Interestingly, economic success is not always a good thing.  We found in our research that some of the more extremely wealthy neighborhoods – represented by the darker maroon on the left – are not as high in community wellbeing – represented by the teal on the right – we believe because these neighborhoods don’t tend to have third places, and wealthy families are more isolated and disengaged.    If you are lucky enough to experience a sudden change in fortune, don’t leave for the bigger house out in Medina.   It’s lonely out there.

Recommendation #4. Find your Community Hubs

Most successful neighborhoods have what we call a community hub.  This is a person that everyone trusts, they might have all of your phone numbers, or copies of your keys for when you are out of town.  They probably maintain a mailing list, facebook group, or blog, and perhaps most importantly are the keepers of all the local gossip.

Get to know this person, because he or she is doing a lot of the “work” of forging community connections for you.

Be the Community Hub

If there is no such hub in your neighborhood – become the community hub.   Justin, or @JSeattle in Capitol Hill is a really good role model for this.  He has a great blog, is very present at local events and venues, and really effectively uses Twitter to not only broadcast information, but to really engage in conversation around neighborhood issues.   When we performed a Twitter network analysis, we found he was the center of a highly interactive Twitter network of Capitol Hill denizens.

Recommendation #5.  Celebrate Diversity

Diversity – in age, race, sexual orientation – is a double edged sword.  On the one hand, diversity can greatly improve a group’s creativity and problem-solving through different perspectives and skills.  On the other hand, it can be a source of great tension and distrust.  What makes the difference, is how inclusive a community is.  That is, to what extent does everyone feel like their voice matters?   In your neighborhood are people balkanized – hunkering down into separate groups and not talking to each other?

Or, is there a feeling of inclusiveness?

Signify Inclusivity through Events, Role Models, Art

Signify Inclusivity through Events, Role Models, Art

Signify Inclusivity

It’s important to think about how do you celebrate diversity and signify inclusivity in your neighborhood.  Festivals or parades are very effective, such as the International District’s Dragonfest, or Gay Pride.  Role models are extremely important — in your community’s storytelling, how much do you incorporate people of different backgrounds in your historical accounts?   What role models are celebrated in your local news media, or public art?

Take Pride

I personally love murals as cultural signifiers — large scale murals embedded in neighborhoods, can have a powerful impact people’s sense of community  — increasing that feeling of belonging and voice for some, and for others helping them take pride in their community’s diversity.  I cannot emphasize enough how important this is – in our research we found that distrust and balkanization across racial lines in particular had the most negative impact on a neighborhood community’s wellbeing.

In Sum, Overcome Your Fear of Strangers

In sum, I want to emphasize that your fear of strangers is the biggest threat to your neighborhood community’s wellbeing.  It is as if you already believe you are under attack from a zombie horde out to eat your brains.  I promise you, however, that most people, like you, are human – they care, they mean well, they are not criminals.  The trick, is to connect around what you have in common — and at the least, you can always connect around the fact that you live or work in the same neighborhood.

If you want a sneak preview of, email shelly at

Network visualization in Spokin

Network visualizations are a risky feature to add to community tool.  While they can provide a good overview of a community and its connections, they require some training to interpret, so are often not well received by every day users.

Still — we wanted to explore the option, so were inspired to hunker down and add a network visualization to the Spokin community page — attached is a screenshot showing the 100 most connected entities for the civic tech NW network, using D3.


Announcing our R&D Consulting Division

We are pleased to announce the opening of our consulting division, focused on helping new technologies positively impact people’s lives through user research, social data analytics, prototyping, and knowledge sharing.

As a non-profit research and development organization with the mission of fostering community empowerment and well-being through technology innovation, we engage in all phases of the R&D cycle, including user research, system design, prototyping, deployment, evaluation, and knowledge dissemination.

In addition to developing our own technologies, we want to help other organizations achieve a meaningful, positive impact in the “tech for good”, social enterprise space by offering our consulting services.  Successful projects require a deep understanding of their users and the ecosystem in which technologies are deployed.  However, few technology companies operate on a scale to employ their own full-time researchers.  We invite you to hire us for project-based work to address your research needs.

Learn more about our consulting services and explore recent past projects here, or contact us directly by phone or email.

Introducing Spokin

The CTO of the City of Seattle saw our presentation of our community well-being report pages at the DSSG program, and asked that we demo Spokin and the community well-being report pages to the mayor’s office.  We did this last week, here are the slides introducing Spokin.

We also recently submitted Spokin as a project for the Knight Foundation’s News challenge.  They post it online so others can comment, so please check it out and provide feedback!  Here’s the summary of the project we provided for them. A “Quantified Community” Civic Networking Tool for Fostering Communal Self-awareness, Empowerment, and Well-being

In two sentences:  Spokin is a member-curated civic network with neighborhood community well-being report cards based on open data and social media analytics.  Just as the quantified-self movement emerged from people using personal informatics to promote their own positive health and quality of life behaviors, we leverage social media analytics, open data, and community-curated content to quantify communities, empowering them to promote their own well-being through increased self-awareness and collective efficacy.

Spokin's Community Report Page

Spokin’s Community Report Page


Spokin is an experimental online civic network focused on neighborhoods and cities that incorporates community self-assessment tools with more traditional social networking features to enable dialogue around social issues warranting a collective response.  The most innovative contributions of Spokin include a) community report cards that dynamically assess place-based community well-being using social media analytics and open data, including an overall Community Well-being Index, b) the automatic identification of local community hubs best positioned to facilitate community response, using a Community Hub Index, c) novel design solutions addressing the unique challenges of enacting one’s civic identity in a hyperlocal public sphere, and d) tools for embedding actionable community metrics in real world community places.

Background and motivation:

A key objective of Spokin is to help people engage with others in their local communities by increasing their awareness of issues that might affect their community well-being as they arise.  Historically, government agencies have measured the well-being of neighborhoods in terms such as crime rates, home ownership, and the income of its residents.  As government agencies adopt a policy of transparency through the open data movement, this information is increasingly made available for unrestricted use through data hosting services and public APIs.  Open data sources include census data, crime incident reports, 311 issue reports, new business licenses or construction permit reports, and geo-spatial location information for local organizations.

These newly available data resources present many exciting directions to explore when seeking to increase community self-awareness. However such urban and socio-economic metrics do not provide a complete picture of community well-being.  In recent years there has there has been an effort (as exemplified by Diene et. al., 1995; the Gross National Happiness Project, 2013, and Morton & Edwards, 2012) to develop measures of community well-being that incorporate more subjective evaluations of quality of life and community engagement.  While a few such measures have been developed (Christakopoulou et al., 2001; Rath & Harter, 2010; Wilkinson 2007) and provide compelling insights, they nonetheless tend to focus on aggregating individual assessments of life satisfaction and personal civic engagement rather than evaluations of the community as a whole.

In addition, traditional self-report measures of community well-being are quite resource-intensive to collect, and are not the most appropriate tools for providing updated, time-sensitive assessments based on changing local events.  As such, citizens usually turn to news media as sources of updated information about their communities (Rosential et al., 2011).  At the hyperlocal level, an important source of information is social media, such as blogs, microblogs, and social networking sites.  In particular, social media tools have been used to report various activities including breaking news (Kwak, 2010), including crises like floods (Vieweg et al., 2010), earthquakes (Sakaki et al., 2010), or even during wartime (Monroy-Hernandez, 2012).   As a consequence, online discourse in social media generates persistent data traces, through which we may collect attitudinal data at a more societal scale (De Choudhury et al., 2014; Monroy-Hernandez et al., 2013).

While a valuable source of hyperlocal information, social media is also problematic and often requires algorithmic analysis to be of use.  As we noted in Hu et al. (2013) in motivating the development of Whooly, a neighborhood-based Twitter aggregator:

“social media tends to be noisy, chaotic, and overwhelming, posing challenges to users in seeking and distilling high quality content from the noise.…  People need help leveraging social media as a source of information about their hyperlocal communities. At one extreme are the fast-paced, uncurated social media streams: chaotic and overwhelming. At the other extreme are the traditional, authoritative, news sources: slow and less participatory than social media. (p. 3481)”

Researchers have explored whether messages in prominent public networks around local topics could be analyzed to provide a signal of local well-being.  For example, Schwartz et al. (2013) found small but statistically significant relationships between self-reported individual life satisfaction measures, Twitter affect, and census data.  Cranshaw et al. (2012) found that Foursquare check-ins meaningful corresponded with socially constructed neighborhood regions, which suggests they may be used to assess community activity and cohesion.  This line research is very promising, and we seek to innovate in how social media and open data may be used to dynamically assess community well-being in a way that is actionable for community organizers.

Spokin Quantified Community Report Pages

Our Spokin community report pages algorithmically integrate social media analytics with more traditional metrics from open data sources to provide a rich, actionable picture of a community’s well-being for community organizers and citizens.  See attached image.  The development of our metrics of factors that impact hyperlocal community well-being are informed by social science and validated against “ground truth” self-report measures of neighborhood experts.  Key factors to date include a) social vitality – metrics indicating that community members know each other and regularly interact; b) thriving third places – metrics indicating that there are active community third places outside of the work and the home where community members may regularly interact; c) the presence of an invested population, such as homeowners and families, d) sufficiently high socio-economic status indicating that the community has the resources to resolve issues, e) diversity in perspectives and skills that often leads to creative, innovative group solutions, with the inclusive culture required to benefit from said diversity, and f) low stressors, such as excessive commuting times and unemployment.  People may explore the different community metrics in the report card by clicking on each of them (see left side of image), which then dynamically visualizes the metric across neighborhoods with a D3 map (see right side of image).   The community report cards are shared in the context of Spokin’s member-curated community networks – including a who’s who of people, organizations, projects, and events active in the community, a visualization showing how they are connected, and an aggregated updates stream – to best facilitate the formation of new community connections and dialogue around shared issues.

The need we are trying to address.

Community well-being is one of the most important factors that impacts quality of life (amongst financial, personal relationship, physical, and psychological wellbeing). However, few individuals are educated to understand what impacts well-being at the communal or societal level, or how to take collective steps toward improving communal well-being. Spokin will provide tools for increasing the collective intelligence and empowerment of community organizers and everyday citizens.

What progress have you made so far?

Spokin builds on several years of prior R&D projects examining the use of social media for increasing awareness of dynamic hyperlocal, neighborhood issues. We started prototyping Spokin in the spring of 2015 and hope to have our “MVP” by early spring 2016. During the summer of 2015, we were selected for the eScience Institute (UW) Data Science for Social Good summer incubator program, where we worked with an interdisciplinary group of data scientists to develop a prototype of the report pages.

What would be a successful outcome for your project?

Successful outcomes would include adoption rates (active users per day) comparable to other civic socio-technical tools in our target metropolitan areas, partnerships with several leading city or NGO agencies seeking ongoing well-being metrics in their areas, the active use of our APIs to integrate our Community Well-being Index into other web sites, and the use of our open-sourced analytics code to facilitate research and development with sibling agencies or web sites.

Spokin is in “closed alpha” but if you want to see a demo to learn more, send me an email at shelly at thirdplacetechnologies dot com.

Electric Sky: An Experimental One Day “Campathon” Fostering Art & Tech

One of our target creative communities for our technology interventions and community engagement activities is the art and tech community in the Pacific Northwest.  As such, we helped host “Electric Sky” this summer, as a way to bring together people at the intersection of art and tech.

3D printer workshop at Electric Sky

3D printer workshop at Electric Sky

Shunpike was very interested in what we did, and asked us to present lessons learned at one of their hivemind events, themed “cross-pollination“.  Here are the slides of that presentation.

You can learn more about Electric Sky here.

The primary goal of this art and tech weekend campathon was to foster the community of innovators at the intersection of art and technology in the Pacific Northwest who use emerging technologies to open up new domains of creative expression.   This event is for artists, technologists, designers, scientists, hackers, makers, and other hybrid creatives who recognize that some of the most inspiring innovations emerge from collaborating across traditional disciplinary boundaries.  Through the immersive experience of an artist retreat, structured much like a weekend hackathon, we sought to create an environment where members of this community may find each other, develop trust, collaborate, be inspired, and innovate.


Wrapping Up Our Community Wellbeing Report Pages Prototype at DSSG

Community Wellbeing Report Page

Community Wellbeing Report Page Prototype

During the summer of 2015, we were selected to participate in the University of Washington’s eScience Institute Data Science for Social Good summer incubator program, where we worked with an interdisciplinary group of graduate student fellows and faculty research scientists to develop an initial prototype of our proposed community well-being report pages.

Here are the wrap up presentation slides, presented on the final day of the event.

Our code is up on github at

The prototype is in “closed alpha” for now, but email me (Shelly) at shelly at thirdplacetechnologies dot com if you wan to check it out.

Special Thanks:

It was a very intense summer, and I can’t thank our student fellows enough for all their hard work. It was a lot of data to pull together in a meaningful way in a short amount of time, and it was immensely valuable to have such an interdisciplinary team focusing on the problem — Ryan Burns’ perspective as a Geography expert, Jenny Ho’s experience with economics analysis, Jordan Bates’s background in computer science and applied math, Yue Zhou’s patience wrangling together and analyzing King County crime data, and our high school students’ (Avery Glassand Jennifer Nino) adventurous spirits in getting feedback from neighborhood residents and processing Facebook data. I also want to thank our DSSG staff mentor Bernease Herman for all her help in mentoring the students in working through their individual problems, and the DSSG crew’s hard work (especially Sarah and Micaela) in providing such a fabulous program connecting data science students with organizations like ours.


Building on our recent prior work examining the use of social media and open data analytics to support hyperlocal community awareness and civic engagement around local issues, we are creating a new experimental third place system – Spokin — to incorporate community self-assessment metrics with identity management tools and situated communication channels that encourage citizen response. The primary goal of Spokin is to enable community organizers and everyday citizens to leverage new affordances in social media, open data, and situated communication channels for ongoing situated community self-awareness around issues affecting their well-being, and immediate, intelligent, collective issue response. A key focus of this work expected to have both intellectual merit and broader impact, is the development of a dynamic Community Well-being Index and a Community Hubs Index, based on data analytics integrating social media and open data. Given the importance of being able to engage with community messages in situ, another longer-term objective of this line of work is to explore new opportunities for citizens to interact with the neighborhood content through mobile and embedded devices.

Summary of our summer project:

For this project we integrated several social media and open data sources to develop predictors of community well-being in King County neighborhoods and cities, including neighborhood Twitter activity and content analysis, activity in Facebook groups and pages, Yelp activity, crime statistics, and census data. We then used machine learning and hierarchical regression analysis techniques to develop a measurement model, using existing survey data from the Happiness Initiative (Musikanski, 2013) as our ground truth dependent variable, which includes a self-report community well-being measure aggregated to the level of King County zip codes. Based on these findings we then developed summary measures of social vitality, thriving third places, population investment, socio-economic status, diversity, and stress (based on weighted, linear combinations of statistically significant features), out of which we further created an overall Community Well-being Index.

Our preliminary results were promising, with our overall Community Well-being Index (based entirely on social media and open data) correlating with the Happiness Initiative self-reported community well-being measure at r = .65, p < .000, N = 167. However we encountered complex interaction effects that warrant further analysis with a larger sample size. For example, we found that while racial diversity overall negatively correlated with community well-being, for minorities in inclusive neighborhoods community well-being was especially high. While provocative, we need more statistical power to have confidence in these findings. Further, the Happiness Initiative survey data was collected online, which raises sampling concerns, and aggregates only to the zip code level. An important next step is to develop a valid ground truth community well-being data set at the neighborhood level to further develop our models.

You may also find a summary of the project on the DSSG blog.

Fostering Innovation Communities Paper Presented at ISEA2015

More than a year ago, to help foster the growing community of artists/technologists in the Pacific Northwest, we organized a workshop bringing together key stakeholders in the region, as a collaboration between Microsoft Research, Cornish College of the Arts, and the Genius Foundation. The workshop was structured as a focus group including a brief questionnaire to generate feedback for how to best support this community.  pr_arttechworkshop

In August 2015, we presented a paper summarizing the lessons learned from the workshop at the International Symposium of Electronic Arts 2015.  Perhaps one of the most interesting challenges we discussed during this session, is the difficulty in helping interdisciplinary communities collaborate, particularly given their different professional constraints.

See paper (Cornish), paper (ISEA2015) or slides.
Farnham S., Brice, J., Tremblay, G., & Pinto da Silva, A.  (2015).  Fostering a Community of Innovation at the Intersection of Art and Technology in the Pacific Northwest.  ISEA 2015.

First Day at the Data Science for Social Good Incubator

Today is the first day of the DSSG Incubator.   I gave a short presentation, including overview of Third Place and recent work informing this project, and got to meet all the students, and start planning the next ten weeks.  It’s going to be an exciting project, in part because of the other exciting projects that will be sitting in the same room, analyzing data to help solve homelessness, transportation, and accessibility…

Here are the slides for my overview, on dropbox.


Participting in the Data Science for Social Good Incubator Program

We’ve been selected to participate in the Data Science for Social Good summer incubator program!  It’s a really great opportunity for us to work with smart graduate students and faculty at the UW eScience Institute, while sitting side by side with three other selected projects leveraging data science for social good in urban environments.


Here’s the project description:

Assessing Community Well-being through Open Data and Social Media

With this project we will be creating neighborhood community report pages in the context of a hyperlocal, crowd-sourced community network. Our direct, “socially good” objective is to help neighborhood communities better understand the factors that impact community well-being, and how they as a neighborhood compare with other neighborhoods on these factors, to help them set the agenda for what to prioritize in promoting their well-being. A key aspect of this project is to explore novel ways to leverage diverse social media and open data sources to dynamically assess community-level well-being, in order to a) enable early identification of emerging social issues warranting a collective response, and to b) automatically identify and recommend the local community hubs best positioned to coordinate a community response. While the tools are intended to be general purpose, through the summer we will be targeting two more underserved neighborhoods in King County (the International District and the Central District). Specific project activities include:

1) Collecting and processing diverse hyperlocal social media (e.g., Twitter, Instagram, Foursquare) and open data sources (e.g., Census data, Crime data, building permits, map data) to develop community well-being measures, which may include sentiment/content analysis, social network analysis, geo-spatial analysis of hyperlocal business activity, and social media activity metrics;

2) Algorithmically integrating these metrics to develop a summary measurement model of overall “community well-being” and individual/local business “community hubbiness”;

3) Representing these metrics to end users (neighborhood community members) in neighborhood report pages, which may include overview visualizations that represent neighborhood well-being across neighborhoods; and

4) Throughout the process, actively work with one or two underserved neighborhoods (International District, Central District) to engage in community participatory design.

This works builds on prior work while our lead investigator Shelly Farnham was as Microsoft Research, exploring the use of social media to help hyperlocal communities stay informed. Related references: Facilitating Information Seeking For Hyperlocal Communities Using Social Media. Yuheng Hu, Shelly Farnham, Andrés Monroy-Hernández. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI) 2013

Neighborhood Community Well-being and Social Media, Shelly Farnham, Michal Lahav, Emma Spiro, and Andres Monroy-Hernandez. A recent, as yet unpublished paper exploring the relationship between social media usage and hyperlocal community well-being.

Recipient of Microsoft Azure for Research Award

I’m excited to announce we are a recipient of the Microsoft Azure for Research Award, which includes large allocations of Azure storage and compute resources for a period of a year.

While at the iConference in March, I saw a demo of Azure’s machine learning for research functionality and found out about the award program.  We use Azure for our database backend, and given the level of data analytics we will be performing in the next year, this is a great program for us.  They’ve been developing some pretty sophisticated machine learning tools in the past few years, including integration of R, and a graphical predictive analytics tool.  We are excited to try them out.

Thanks Microsoft Azure!


Innovative Community of Practice and Civic Tech in the Northwest

I gave a couple of talks in April discussing how to foster innovative communities of practice  (one at the Cultural Congress hosted by the Washington State Arts Alliance, and one for the e-gov subcommittee of the CTTAB).

Here are the slides as a PDF.

Presentation highlights:

Due to the ubiquity of social media, there’s been a paradigm shift in how group’s of people work together, which also affects how organizations (government, NGO, or companies) engage with the public.

There are several models for citizen engagement via social media, the one we at Third Place Technologies seek to explore is how to best provide environments that empower members of communities to connect with each other — helping communities help themselves.



We are working on a couple of prototyping projects that are focused on helping communities connect, including Brink NW, a crowd-sourced community network of people, organizations, events projects, optimized for interdisciplinary, cross-organizational collaboration.

As a part of this effort, we are focusing on three communities to start — the art & tech community in the Northwest, the civic tech community in the Northwest, and the International District as a neighborhood community.  A key aspect of this project is to engage in data-driven, socially intelligent design — that is, to develop a community networking tool that best maps onto the existing structure of real-world communities of practice.  Consequently we’ve been actively engaged in acquiring a lot of information about these communities, including what we are calling a “community mapping survey”.

We recently distributed one of these community mapping survey’s to the civic tech community at the Open Data Day in February, and presented some key findings from this survey (see slides 21-32).

In asking participants to articulate the community’s goals, they expressed the strongest interest in having civic tech exhibitions/show and tells, and then educational workshops.

Civic Tech Community Goals

Civic Tech Community Goals

It was clear from the survey, that as a new, emerging community of practice, people had some difficulty connecting with others — knowing who’s who, and what projects were active, and whey they could plug in, so to speak, with their skill sets.

Welcome to Our New Board of Directors

Perhaps the most important task in founding a new non-profit organization is forming a board of directors that is not only excited about the core mission, but will also provide the expert advice, ethical oversight, and social connections required to assure the organization’s success.

Third Place Technologies was incorporated as a state non-profit with an interim board in October of 2014, and we have since been engaged in the process of finding and recruiting more board members, seeking a diversity of backgrounds and skills to assure we have experienced research scientists, technologists, nonprofit administrators, community organizers, and designers at the table.  We held our first formal meeting of the board on March 31st, where we adopted our bylaws, elected our board officers, and approved our 1023 application for 501(c)(3) tax exempt status.

Welcome to our new Board of Directors, including Bob Mason (President), Joe McCarthy (Vice-President), Dee Christoff (Secretary-Treasurer), Jeff Larson, Genevieve Tremblay, Michal Lahav, and Seth Vincent, and thanks for your commitment to Third Place Technologies’ core mission of creating innovative technologies that foster community empowerment and well-being.

As of this past week, our documents are all signed and in the mail, which is a great cause for celebration.

Designing for the Perils of Public Voice in the Age of Social Media

On February 26th I gave a talk at the Seattle Pecha Kecha #60, Watch Me Now, Notes on a Surveillance Society.  The event brought together speakers from across the information ecosystem – including policy makers, technologists, advocates and others to discuss the complex issues surrounding privacy and surveillance in the digital world.

For this talk I discussed some of the themes that inspired the formation of Third Place Technologies — the power and perils of participating in public discourse online in the age of social media.

Here Be Dragons

Here Be Dragons

As noted by Bennett et al., (2009), the mere act of participation in public discourse online is a form of civic engagement as people share their personal stories, find people with similar interests and concerns, and then start working together to solve their collective problems.  We have consistently found in our own research (e.g., Farnham et al. 2013) that it is the use of public networks (such as Twitter, blogs) that most corresponded with civic engagement, not, the use of personal networks (such as Facebook).

However, not all voices are equally represented in public spheres online.  For example, while there are roughly an equal number of men and women with Twitter accounts, 64% of private account are women vs. 36% of men.  (See statistics on  In other words, women are not using social media to participate in public discourse as much as men are.

The story of #YesAllWomen provides a compelling example of the power and perils of online social media.  This Twitter hashtag started in response to Elliott Rodger’s killing spree in May of 2014, where he killed 7 people including himself.  To explain his murderous actions he posted a Youtube video stating “you girls have never been attracted to me, but I will punish you for it”.  This chilling event evoked a strong reaction for many women, and within days, 1.2 million posted on Twitter their stories of fear of harassment and sexual assault from men who were similarly angry for not receiving sexual attention from them, under the hashtag #YesAllWomen.  For many women, this outpouring of stories proved an empowering experience, giving a collective voice to everyday experiences that need to addressed.   Unfortunately, the stream of messages was also interspersed with threatening and antifeminist posts.  Within days, the woman who had created the original  #YesAllWomen hashtag received so many threats she had to change her account to private.

In other words, she was silenced.  This is not an unusual occurrence, many are silenced from participating in the public sphere through real or anticipated threats of intimidation.   For example, Anita Sarkeesian, a feminist influential who was speaking out against the violence against women in video games, receives hundreds of abusive Tweets every week including death and rape threats.  Just recently she received a mass shooting threat for a scheduled talk at Utah State, which she felt impelled to cancel because there was not sufficient security.  (Learn more here.)  She also was silenced, though she assures us only temporarily.

Outspoken feminists experiencing systematic intimidation are just one example of the perils of participating in the public sphere — there are many, many others; ranging from a gay teacher posting marriage announcements on Facebook and losing his job, to an anti drug cartel advocate in Reynosa, Mexico who was murdered for her Tweets reporting on their crimes.

Given the importance of being able to engage in the public sphere online, how can we help design third places technologies to assure the benefits of having a public voice online are experienced without harm by all?

As I mentioned in this talk, it is important to recognize that online environments can be hostile, much like work environments can be hostile, characterized by the cumulative effect of conduct in social media so severe and pervasive it interferes with a citizen’s ability to engage in public discourse.     Systematic acts of intimidation through threats of violence are not free speech — they are the opposite of free speech, specifically designed to prevent a citizen from engaging in public discourse.  As such, it is important to develop systems for civic discourse that adopt a zero tolerance policy toward such acts of intimidation.

Similarly, in cases where disclosing civic opinions might negatively impact a person’s well-being — such as job loss, public shaming, physical harm, or even loss of life — it’s extremely important to ensure participants have the right tools for privacy and identity segmentation.  For example, I should be able to actively engage in authentic discourse around my political beliefs without my persona as an engaged citizen being tied to my persona as an employee or a family member.  In face-to-face situations we can handle identity segmentation quite effectively simply by changing places (home, work, town hall), but have difficulty doing so in online systems that tend to collapse our social contexts — and identities — together.

Tools such as Twitter and Reddit are more appropriate for civic discourse than tools such as Facebook, because they enable pseudonymity.  This is an identity separate from the “real” you, so that participation in public discourse online does not easily lead to personal harm offline.  Yet, this online identity is persistent, and may develop its own reputation over time, which increases accountability and socially appropriate behavior.  In this case, you might think of Twitter and Reddit as playing the role of identity brokers — a trusted, third party environment where individuals may disclose personal information.

That said, these systems have far to go before they are safe environments for people to express their public voice.  Going forward, it is important to advocate social policy fostering a culture of respect online, recognizing that threats and bullying online can lead to real harm offline.  Similarly there needs to be the appropriate legal adaptations balancing free speech and the principle of no harm.  However as technologists, there is also much we can do in our socio-technical system designs to mitigate real threats to well-being.   How we may design new technologies to ensure equitable participation and voice in the public sphere is a hard problem to solve, and an important theme of our work here at Third Place Technologies.

Here are the slides from the talk: Designing for the Perils of Public Voice in the Age of Social Media


Bennett, W. L., Wells, C., and Freelorn, D. 2009. Communicating citizenship online: models of civic learning in the youth web sphere. Civic Learning Online Project.

Farnham, S.D., Keyes, D., Yuki, V., and Tugwell, C.  (2013).  Modeling youth civic engagement in the new world of networked publics.  AAAI International Conference on Weblogs and Social Media (ICWSM).


2015 iConference Social Media Expo — Open Government Data and Social Media

opengovntYesterday we held our third Social Media Expo at the 2015 iConference, sponsored by FUSE Labs at Microsoft Research.  This has been a great way for us to encourage interdisciplinary student teams to explore emerging themes in the field that are also of particular interest to FUSE Labs.

The 2015 Theme:  Open Government Data and Social Media

This year’s challenge was to “explore new and exciting ways to foster societal awareness and conversation at the intersection of open data and social media”.  In 2009 the white house sent out an Open Government Directive, requiring government agencies to adopt the principles transparency, participation, and collaboration in part by publishing government data online in open formats.  Five years later there is an amazing plethora of information freely available, enabling people to “conduct research, develop web and mobile applications, design data visualizations, and more”. (see  At the same time, an analysis of social media data helps us understand and reflect on historical and real-time aggregate behavior, allowing both organizations and individuals to gain a deeper understanding of their society. These two trends create an opportunity for a kind of large scale conversation – as governing agencies share their data with their citizenry, and as the population at large engages with organizations through tools such as Twitter, blogs, and Facebook.  We encouraged teams to approach this year’s theme with an interdisciplinary combination of user research, design explorations, prototyping, real world deployments with usage analysis, or community engagement.

The winning teams:

We were very pleased with the quality of the submissions this year, and we to thank the five winning teams who received the grant for all the work that went into their projects and their presentations at the Social Media Expo.   The best project award went to the University of California, Irvine’s team, for their project “ Racial Violence Archive: Public Information System on Incidents of Violence during the Civil Rights Period”.

eMigrate: Aggregating Government Open Data for Enhanced Job Category Selection in Support of Immigration Applications

School: University of Toronto: Faculty of Information
Team: Eva Hourihan Jansen, Jenna Jacobson, Gabby Resch
Faculty Sponsor: Rhonda McEwen

The Police Officer Involved Homicides Database Project

School: University of California, Los Angeles: Department of Information Studies
Team: Morgan Currie, Brittany Paris, Irene Pasquetto, Jennifer Pierre, Ashley E. Sands
Faculty Sponsor: Leah Lievrouw

Racial Violence Archive: Public Information System on Incidents of Violence during the Civil Rights Period

School: University of California, Irvine: The Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences
Team: Hosub Lee, Michael Bellato, Sowmya Jain, Fernando Spanghero, Roeland Singer-heinze, Ya-Wen Lin, Sunakshi Gupta, Geoff Ward
Faculty Sponsors: Alfred Kobsa and Geoff Ward

Society Key: Integrating Social Media Data with Governmental Open Data to Encourage Community Wellbeing

School: Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey: School of Communication and Information
Team: Ziad Matni, Jennifer Sonne, Dongho Choi
Faculty Sponsor: Chirag Shah

TransparencyScience. Return on research investment, where do the funds go?

School: Polytechnic University of Valencia: School of Informatics
Team: Lidia Contreras, Cristina I. Font, Paulina Morillo, Diego Vallejo
Faculty Sponsor: Antonia Ferrer Sapena

Emerging Themes and Discussion:

Following the presentations we had a brief discussion.  Common threads across the talks and discussion include:

  • Filing the gaps.  As noted particularly for the Police Officer Involved Homicides project, there is often a gap across different sources of data, and social media may be used to help fill the gaps to increase accuracy and interpretability.  Government data can also sometimes be out of date, and social media may be used to help bring it up to date (e.g., classification of job categories for the eMigrate project).

  • Translating data for end users.  Government data as shared in its raw form can be fairly opaque to the average person.  A key problem that can be addressed by information technologists is transforming it through simplification, explanations, and visualizations, so that it is actionable for everyday citizens.

  • Community Engagement.  Student teams generally found that people were very interested in engaging around the data, and further found that a hackathon format was quite successful vehicle for enabling deep engagement and community connections with like-minded others.  As researchers/information technologists, they found they tended to take on a teaching role, helping people to engage with the data.  Many have low levels of self-efficacy around engaging with open data and technology, and require some hand-holding.

  • Developing the community of practice.  Researchers, technologists, and “digital journalists” need to develop best practices for dealing with ethical issues, increasing engagement and end-user confidence, and assuring projects are not exploitative.

  • Social media facilitates participatory.  Across the student projects, we observed social media and social media design patterns could play a meaningful role in helping the new open data environment become more participatory and collaborative.

Thanks again to our student teams for their hard work, their faculty sponsors for providing guidance, the organizing committee for developing the theme and writing reviews, and  the iConference for generously hosting the Social Media Expo.

Please learn more about the team project by reading their abstracts or watching the video submission on Youtube.

Designing for Hack the Commute

Local civic tech hackathons and uncoferences are a great way to get to know a community even as it is gelling into one.  I went to Hack the Commute, hosted by the City of Seattle and the Washington State Department of Transportation, and was very happy to see a number of familiar faces there.  It was a great event, and very well run — a good role model for future hackathons.

As someone who can wear multiple hats I am never quite what role I will fall into at these events — research scientist, data analyst, developer, designer, artist — however by some intuition I brought my Mac to this hackathon (loaded up with Illustrator and Photoshop) and joined the Dokoji team as the designer for a day.  They are developing an app that “turns your conversation in to smart decisions”.     It was a very interesting problem — how might we integrate different sources of open data relevant to the moment-to-moment context of a text conversation, as people seek to converge in place and time?

Here are some of my design mockups:

Design mockups exploring integrating contextually relevant open data and social media into text messaging conversation.

Design mockups exploring integrating contextually relevant open data and social media into text messaging conversation.

The full slide deck for our short wrap-up presentation is posted on github here.  To quote their summary:

“For Hack the Commute, we integrated data sets that would allow people to explore green transportation options, so once a group of people had picked a destination, they would be presented with 3 options: Find the closest bus using the OneBusAway data set; find the closest bike rental location using the Pronto data set; and a carpool option (future implementation). On the back end, we also integrated impact data from Washington State Department of Transportation. “

Thanks to the Dokoji team, it was great fun hacking the commute with you.

Apolis: Our Third Place Heatmap Project at HackHousing

This past weekend I attended “HackHousing”, a hackathon hosted by Zillow in coordination with the White House, U.S. Department of Commerce and theDepartment of Housing and Urban Development and in partnership with the Department of Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Washington.

It was a great hackathon, very well attended and facilitated by Chris Metcalf from Socrata.

I was very lucky with my impromptu team (Saba, Daniel, Elizabeth, and Jim), who were excited to do a project exploring how can we indicate that a neighborhood has a thriving community based on open data. Building on a long history of research showing that thriving communities are more likely to grow when there are “third places” in a centralized location, we created a heatmap quantifying the number of third places in a neighborhood and the neighborhood’s community “hubbiness”.


Apolis, with heatmap indicating community places, and bullseyes indicating neighborhood community centroid & density


In addition to the heatmap, we found the centroid and density of each neighborhood’s hubs and represented them with little bullseye’s on the map (larger bullseye = more third place density) so people would know where they should live.

We used the City of Seattle’s neighborhood map data to find places such as libraries, parks, community centers, and schools.

We also used the Location Affordability Index open data provided by HUD for the event to help people filter over the map.

The code is shared on github here.

Upcoming Seattle Open Data Day

I’ve been helping Seth Vincent (Code for Seattle) organize Seattle Open Data Day with Will Scott at the University of Washington.

I strongly encourage you all to go to Seattle Open Data Day, an unconference on open data and civic technology.  Held at the UW Computer Science Department on February 21, the goal is to continue the conversation on civic technology issues around Seattle.

Some of the topics we hope to discuss are:

  • Defining what we as a city/region want from open data in the future, and how the government & companies can help.
  • Making it easy for everyone to participate in open data and civic technology.
  • Where open data should be used to make and improve decisions.

More information here:

Sign up through the Code for Seattle meetup group here:

Consider leading a session!