Showing aloha through open government

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The City of Honolulu is calling all citizens to join the open government movement on December 3 and to prove the value of government data as a platform. They hope to entice citizens to shape the future of their city by identifying open government opportunities, discussing technology, and formulating solutions. Civic groups, designers, "govies," techies, developers, and more are encouraged to participate. The organizers of CityCamp Honolulu are excited to host this open government unconference in preparation for a 2012 Code for America project.

The conversation has already started on their idea forum, sparking almost 50 ideas ranging from creating a mobile application for bus routes to displaying city tax revenue and spending trends. It's great to see the community interact before the event, suggesting topics that are important to them and making the first step—identifying things they can work on at the camp.

I'll be participating in a panel discussion on open government. Alissa Black, Government Relations Director at Code for America; Gordon Bruce, the City of Honolulu CIO; and I will discuss trends in open government, application concepts, and ideas from other CityCamps. We hope to motivate attendees and provide a unique perspective to maximize their CityCamp experience.

I got a chance to catch up with one of the organizers, Forest Frizzell, a deputy director in Honolulu’s Department of Information Technology. I met Frizzell soon after the organizers announced their CityCamp, and we discussed the intricacies of how much planning goes into an unconference. In the interview with Frizzell, he provides the current landscape for open government in Honolulu, what they hope to achieve with their CityCamp, and much more.

What does open government currently look like for the City of Honolulu?

Forest FrizzellWe made a concerted effort in 2011 to come up with ideas on how to be a more open government. The low-hanging fruit for us was posting all of our financial information. Citizens of Honolulu can download our budgets in line item, .csv form. We have an fully integrated ERP system, so generating these reports was something that could be done relatively quickly. We also posted all financial disclosure statements for appointed officials.

Simultaneously we started talking to our departments about opening up Twitter and Facebook accounts. Adding social media as a medium took some getting used to, but there are a number of departments that have done a great job with these accounts. Just recently we hosted the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings here in Honolulu. With 21 dignitaries from Pacific Rim countries, including Russia, China, and the US, road closures in an already congested city were a troublesome thought. With the help of Twitter, Facebook, and Nixle we rapidly got the word out on road closures and kept people out of traffic.

Next we're doing a pilot project with City Sourced, a mobile/web application that allows citizens to take pictures of things like potholes or broken street lights and report them.

What do the organizers hope to accomplish at CityCamp Honolulu?

We hope to leverage the CityCamp experience for a few things. The first is to let the public know we are serious in wanting to hear back from them about how we can leverage technology to make it convenient for them to work with government or be more active in their communities. We also want to get our local developer community more involved with helping us create citizen-focused applications.

The idea of government data as a platform is a new concept and one that is going to take time to fully understand and get buy-in from the public. I believe once we can show a tangible application like real-time bus arrivals or an application that shows you refuse pick-up times for your neighborhood, people will start to fully understand the concept of open data.

Finally, Honolulu was selected as a 2012 Code for America city. CityCamp will be an excellent way for us to crowdsource and have a large amount of discussed and vetted ideas and suggestions for that engagement.

How can the average citizen participate at CityCamp Honolulu?

The first way would be to simply sign up and attend. We’ve made it easy to get the conversation started with a user voice account. At last check, we had about 40 ideas up there with side bar discussions and people voting on their favorite ideas. We want to spread the message that CityCamp isn't just for the developers of Honolulu, but also civic groups, designers, users of government services, and forward-thinking people. You don’t have to be a computer expert to realize that if one could reserve a campsite online instead of coming to city hall to stand in line, that would be a much more efficient use of time. The voice of the average citizen is a very important piece to this initiative.

What has been the biggest surprise so far, as you help plan and organize CityCamp Honolulu?

The tremendous amount of support from the CityCamp group has been overwhelming. We didn’t have to create our camp from the ground up, rather just tweak it here and there for our needs. I’ve also been energized by the amount of community enthusiasm this has generated. We’ve been able to pull together some quality sponsors in a short amount of time, which speaks volumes for how ready people are to talk about this subject. We’ve also has a number of community members step up and offer assistance in planning the event.

How do you use the open source way in your everyday life?

I use Android mobile apps, OpenOffice, Google Docs, and our city cyber security. At the office, we’re running Red Hat Enterprise Linux on Mainframe IFL, which will shape a lot of our business decisions for the next few years.

Jason Hibbets is a Community Director at Red Hat with the Digital Communities team. He works with the Enable Architect, Enable Sysadmin, Enterprisers Project, and community publications.


Aloha Jason,

I'd be genuinely interested to hear your honest feedback about this concept for CityCampHNL.

Hi Peter,

I love your passion and I love the connection to job creation. That is key. I'll admit that I'm not a coder or hacker, but a community organizer. From my experience, creating API's are a lot of work. So depending on the goals, I'd ask if you prefer open data or API's first. At other CityCamps, open data seems to take a lead because if you have an open, standard data set, you can do more with that then a set of API's. of course, I may not understand all of the requirements and things you and the others in the tech community want to achieve, but CityCamp Honolulu will be a great place to have this conversation.

It sounds like you've put a lot of thought into the platform your want. I would ask, do you want the platform to be API based or open data based first? CityCamp Honolulu will be a great place to explore this question. Also, 12/3 is open data day (see:

I look forward to meeting you, learning more, and advancing the open source, open government movement in Honolulu.


Hey Jason,

Thanks for the comments. Not to get too wrapped up in API vs. open data, the key is that all websites displaying city data, whether they be sourced from the city or the private sector, access the same database to pull that data.

So if I go to 3 different city websites, I should be able to create a private site that can do a mashup from the data coming from each of those sites. The instant the city makes a change on the data of those websites, the same change would be displayed on mine.

I believe this means API. I do believe it is vitally important we start on the right foot first. Otherwise I feel that if we put this off "for later", it will essentially never happen. However if we put it in now, as a firm policy, it might take longer or cost more to build, but the long-term benefits will be significantly better than any short term gain.

I'm really looking forward to meeting with everyone this weekend and getting to know you better. Really cool!

It sounds like you're looking for an authoritative data source, whether it's API or an open data set. Either way, I think it's a good thing to advocate for some type of open access to what you need and this weekend is a great place to gather people who want this to express this interest.

I think what you want is more policy than technology. See:

This is the type of thing CityCampers advocate for. At CityCamp Raleigh, we're still trying to advance our Open Government Directive. Our problem is that local policians don't get open source, the advantages of it, or the future problems it can solve.

This is good stuff!

Very cool. I was born in Cook County (Chicago) so that holds a special place in my heart.

The key thing, for me, above all else, is that the City websites use the identical data source and interface (so I guess this is API) that is available to all web developers. That's the key. This is the only way that at a policy level, developers will be assured to be accessing current and accurate data.


The API concept that you, Dave, and Gordon all submitted a variation of has received a lot of interest. I'm very positive it will be voted on and discussed the day of the event.

I've personally been looking at the API issue for the past 6 months ever since we launched the transparency site.

There are a number of paid for SaaS platforms that are available but they're costly. Code for America has an open source API portal that we plan on looking at as well.

When I wrote the Code for America grant it was written around open 311 which includes API availability.

Excellent! I'm looking forward to meeting you at the event and moving this agenda forward.

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