Apps for Democracy was followed by the Sunlight Labs competition “Apps for America” in 2009. Clay Johnson, in charge of the competition, continues to work in the open government space. He says, and our experience with A4MC compels us to agree, that the point of open data “isn’t to litter the web full of disposable web apps that are soon forgotten about. It’s to build sustained developer interest around this data.” John Tolva, Chicago’s Chief Technology Officer is of the same mind. After A4MC ended he said, “The apps were fantastic, but the real output of A4MC was the community of urbanists and coders that came together to create them.”
We can talk about this process as building a “community of practice,” an informal network of peers with different skills, learning about a common subject together. It’s not enough just to know about the data; in a community of practice, people use it.
Civic Apps Competitions (CACs) can do this - focus attention and interest on civic data and create an arena where people’s creativity and work are recognized and shared. A well designed CAC engages non-profits, businesses, government departments and community organizations, as well as developers. It may in the process create “app litter,” but can also focus on building connections for long-run development.
The problem is, the benefits of engaging a community of practice around open data aren’t as easy to quantify as a simple return on investment metric. We ...