My Questions for Data-preneurs - CollabSpace DC

Last week, I helped to lead a PBS MediaShift organized Collab/Space event in Washington, DC.  This was the third time I have participated in this kind of event (here are my notes from the events in NYC and Chicago) - and like the other events, this one offered a group of entrepreneurial types an opportunity to present their ideas/projects and field questions from an audience filled with fellow entrepreneurs, media veterans, and other smart folks.

The format of the event is simple: Each of the projects is given five minutes to present their idea and then ten minutes to answer questions from the audience.  The afternoon is spent working in groups to address various project-related challenges.

If you are interested, you can read more about the eight projects who were the focus of the event, or check out some of the coverage of the event.

My role during the CollabSpace is to process everyone’s input and then pose questions/offer feedback on different ideas or priorities that these entrepreneurial types should consider addressing.  My questions/notes/suggestions form the basis of our afternoon workshop sessions - but also hopefully just spur thinking among everyone involved about ways to move the entire conversation forward.

The DC event focused on open data and government accountability - which made for a very different set of presentations and challenges than the previous events in NYC and Chicago (which were focused on intrapreneurial and entrepreneurial projects respective). I have pulled together my questions/notes for each of the projects below, which admittedly might make more sense if you were in attendance at the event. Still, I am sharing them in hopes it helps the entrepreneurial folks who participated in the event, as well as others who are trying to build a media company, or engage an audiences in a meaningful way, or want to see the promise of open data realized, whether its around government accountability or any other sort of projects, think about things a little differently.

Let me know what you think or if you have any questions or ideas to add.


Code for America’s Streetmix

Q: What is the challenge in connecting average citizens and planners - and how does the project need to help educate or think through the urban development process in cities more broadly to help improve adoption?

Q: How else could the tool be applied (resilience/disaster preparedness, infrastructure, transportation/subways)?  How do you make this extra relevant to specific audiences (who might also pay to use or support the tool)?

Q: How do you increase participation/use of the tool - who do you target with your marketing/outreach to get the greatest response? Are there groups (e.g. Cities of Service, US Conference of Mayors) that you could partner with to help get more cities to adopt it?

Q: How important is it for people to know how neighborhoods are planned, how urban designers work for the tool to be successful? Does this have mass potential for people to get more involved in planning - or is it designed to serve the already initiated?

Q: How do you translate general requests from people (e.g. SeeClickFix information) into this process?  What other projects or sources of input could help to enhance the user experience and get more people to utilize the tool?

Q: Is there a plan to transfer people who use the tool into other areas of urban planning (or advocacy, or similar) to help ensure that plans get implemented?

Q: How could you develop a revenue model for this (Kickstarter, sponsorship/underwriting) so that it survived on its own? Who would be prospective sponsors - foundations, VCs, etc?

Q: Are there offline elements of this that could be used for teaching and influencing the public discourse?  Is there a way to convert this into an educational tool that could be used in urban planning in colleges/universities - to improve the next generation of city planners?

Q: Do you have a theory of change? What steps follow the use of the tool in terms of implementing the changes that are needed in the cities/communities?

Q: Is there a private application of the tool to help developers with their planning efforts (e.g. Vulcan in Seattle or Zappos/Vegas redevelopment effort)?

Q: Is there a resiliency planning/disaster preparedness application for the tool - to help make it even more relevant to the most pressing challenges facing cities/communities today?

Q: What are additional product development ideas as part of this (e.g. before/after stimulation)?  What features (e.g. analysis of choices) could be integrated to help enhance the learning value of the tool?

Q: How do you bridge the gap between the citizen organized ideas and the city officials, to facilitate a better conversation? How do you effectively harness the crowd (given their lack of knowledge), and enhance the way government approaches these challenges at the same time?

Q: How do you enhance the editorial use of the tool - to help influence thinking or shift thinking on issues (e.g. get Curbed or Zillow to use)?

Q: How do you expand user participation, and especially get the less connected communities and citizens to participate (example: twitter-only sign-in is a problem)?

Q: What are the outcomes that you want to see - and how do you prioritize them (e.g. increase in civic participation, e.g. more bike lanes)?

Development Seed/WHO’s Ebola Data Portal

Q: How can you take the lessons learned from this project and share them/apply them to the larger issue of information sharing around emergencies, epidemics, etc?  Is there a model for sharing information that can also be applied to other epidemics (or disasters)? Can the larger approach to information sharing be enhanced through this approach?

Q: What editorial elements, or curation, or similar do you need to add to help non-data analysts appreciate this tool? Beyond just making the data easier to consume, what else could you integrate to help people utilize the tool (e.g. narrative/story generator, connection to operationally-focused efforts, etc)?

Q: Is there a citizen access point for this data, so people can become informed - without having to go through a media filter?

Q: Is there a ‘push’ model for the tool - email newsletters, widgets, etc - that will distribute this information to different audiences, through partners, etc?  How can you expand access and interest in this tool/data for people with related, but not the same interests as WHO?

Q: How do you ensure that the data tracking/presentation being done by Google and others is done collaboratively – and that we don’t create competing uses?

Q: What organizations do you need to take this tool to beyond the WHO (so that everyone starts to embrace the same standard/approach)?  How do you manage/centralize/organize future product development and innovation on this tool over time?

Q: Is there a way to make the PDF that this system creates with the situation reports more tailor-able for different audiences?

Q: What are the priority audiences (response audience - policy makers at the head of a development agency, people who are using the data on their own to come up with things)? How do you keep them engaged?  Who are the other audiences that should be made aware of this tool - to improve its effectiveness, increase its usage?

Q: Is there a way to measure the impact of this tool/data?  Do you have specific outcomes related to the application of the data, not just the use of the tool?

Q: What other data sources would you want to include?  Is there a way to adapt this tool for specific use in the United States, to pre-empt any potential panic situation from mis-information?  Can you use this tool to model the future and set expectations?

Q: Are there problems that you have identified with how information is shared, how organizations collaborate, that you could report out to help NGOs, government, etc. to learn how to change their internal processes to maximize these tools in the future?

Q: Who are partners that you could work with (e.g. Ushahidi to tap into their mobile real-time data collection effort)?  Ebola.deeply

Q: What types of data do you need to collect that would enhance this? What additional information, what layers would you want to explore to enhance this - specifically?

Q: Could you adapt this tool to be a learning, post-game analysis support tool as well - so that its not about real-time management of the situation?

Q: What kind of marketing/promotion is needed to increase adoption of the tool - and both help enhance the utility, but also potentially improve the product/innovation idea?

Q: How do you influence the long-game?  How do you get more organizations to share their information in an operational way, in real-time? What role can you play in breaking down those barriers (educating, framing, doing the outreach, etc)?


Q:  How can you connect to media/provide context, to help make these issues more relevant?  What types of information (e.g. news articles, interested advocacy groups, etc) could you put next to the bill tracking to give the user even greater value?

Q: What other products or services could be created to develop a revenue stream?  Could you push information out (email newsletter, trend reports, etc)? Could you integrate advertising or sponsorships as part of the tool?  Is there an editorial layer/curation that is needed to help identify the most important issues - to influence/shape which things people are paying attention to?

Q: How can you impact how organizations do their work – give them tools so they can have a more successful impact on the political process? How would you measure those outcomes (better lobbying efforts, higher citizen involvement)?

Q: What will make companies, nonprofits, trade associations, etc. care? How do you need to frame and PUSH the information out so that they don’t have to go searching as much?

Q: Are you connected to coverage/media of these issues and candidates - or is the tool able to integrate with other tracking tools (social media monitors, Google news, etc)?

Q: Do you have ambitions to improve the legislative process, the societal outcomes - or just make it easier to manage the process for insiders? Is there a way to do both?

Q: How do you establish standards for how bills are categorized, so that there can be better alignment of data?

Q: Could you produce reports, trend analysis, summaries, etc. (the way CQ produces guides)?

Q: Is there a connection to the organizing/advocacy piece of the process – advocacy, lobbying, citizen action?

Q: User experience - legislative tool tips… how do you use that information to get more people involved in the democratic process, improve citizen and other participation among citizens?

Q: How could you increase participation among state legislative staffers?  How could you get more news organizations to use the tool as well?

Gannett Digital’s Harvest of Change

Q: How should Gannett get involved in shaping how Oculus Rift/VR evolves?  What do media/news organizations need to do to ensure that these tools can support news in the future?

Q: What do we need to better understand about gaming, so we can translate it into news? How do we make news storytelling more compelling through games, not just transform media organizations into game companies?  How can we attract the “gamers” to this new news platform (so it doesn’t become a competition for attention w/ Call of Duty)?

Q: Can you (and how) use the different pieces that went into the development of the project to enhance the current news products?  What could you test/experiment with in the next six months?

Q: Does any issue translate to this kind of presentation - or is it just for certain issues? How can you apply the lessons to all sorts of serious issues (or non-serious issues) to improve consumption of news/information broadly?  

Q: Why not do a rodeo or roller coaster, to help increase adoption (and open the door to more serious projects)?

Q: How quickly will mass adoption of Oculus Rift happen - and is there anything that Gannett should do to help with that, shape it?

Q: Part of what makes games so compelling is that they are user driven, almost without boundaries… can you create news stories that don’t have boundaries, or do they have to present a narrative?

Q:  How can you scale this kind of interactivity, so that you can do some part of EVERY story with this kind of approach?

Q: How can you help shape people’s understanding of presenting information? What do you have to abandon in terms of historical thinking?

Q: What other product elements (from gaming) would help to enhance the experience (e.g. avatars)?  

Q: Why not do more to enhance journalism instead of trying to put journalism into the game environment?

Q: What is your goal for this (beyond experimentation)? Is there a road map? Are you trying to get other media organizations to do this (and you will offer that as a service)? What outcomes do you need to see for Gannett to justify continuing this investment?  How do you harvest the learnings from this to drive innovation in other elements of the news operation - not just all in one place?

Q: What is the ladder of engagement for news/information? How do you shape the habits of news consumers long-term so that you get 10 year-olds committed to reading/buying news in the future (and not just become a game company)?


Q: Do you need to redefine storytelling for people to fully embrace MapStory? How do you make MapStory more than just a successful tool - so that it achieves some larger transformational/educational goals?

Q: What is the marketing strategy; can you explain why this work is important and who the potential customer base for it is?  Are there audiences you should prioritize so that you can get greater adoption and interest - which opens up other opportunities in the future?

Q: How can you be sustainable - why not be for-profit?  Or how could you think more like a traditional startup (product focused, rapid prototyping) - and potentially attract interest (and funding) from more than just traditional philanthropic partners?

Q: Beyond measuring the “quality of evidence collected and shared that helps ordinary people make better sense of their changing world” how do you measure success/outcomes?  How do you adapt metrics to different individual stories or topics?

Q: What is your knowledge process/ladder of engagement? How does a more informed public help? What types of behaviors do you know people will take, or do you want people to take?

Q: Is there an editorial/explanatory/context layer that you need to add to help people maximize the tool?

Q: What other products could you create to PUSH narratives/stories out to help increase adoption (e.g. trends newsletter, blog, reports, trainings, etc)?  How else might you generate revenue through insights, cross-pollinating data sources across different projects (meta view of the data)?

Q: Do you need to re-define the idea of storytelling in the digital age - and if so, what role do you play in framing the conversation/shaping how people think?

Q: How do you ensure mass adoption (or consumption) of the stories/narratives – so that they aren’t just learning projects?  How do you get less-connected communities to participate?

Q: Should you identify topics that are of particularly importance and recruit people to participate?  Should you prioritize certain things you know are going to be most important – and thus most interesting to potential funders, etc?

Q: How do you teach people to be critical, to provide good feedback?  What do you need to teach people to do to fully embrace this?  How do you define good (and how do you mainstream that definition so it becomes a standard)?

Q: What are the rules that you need to create, the standards that you need to set to encourage participation? What can you learn from other tools/platforms and community projects that you can apply going forward?  What else do you need to learn?

Q: Innovation for penetration? How can you re-shape how people think about using maps and learning, without compromising marketability?

Q: How do you increase adoption? Can you make them embeddable? Widgets?  Who are the people you want to share more openly (media, corporate, educational institutions, etc) - and what are the technical/non-technical requirements to move that along?  What are the top features/products that you need to build in order to get faster/larger adoption (even if they are not core to the product)?

Sunlight Foundation’s Open Civic Data Project

Q: What marketplace do you want to see or create so that more startups and organizations embrace it?  What 5-10 tools would you like someone to build, or issues to prioritize so that the impact of open data was appreciated by more people, faster?

Q: Who are the key partners that you need to get on-board and turn into evangelists – can you list some examples?  Who isn’t traditionally part of the open data conversation that if you were to get them on board would help change the whole dynamic and interest other players?

Q:  How can you frame the conversation about open data? Who are the key influencers and how can you get them to think about the long-term future of open data, so they understand what happens when this is successful?

Q: What would happen if you liberate all government data? What’s the long-term vision and what, if any, influence do you want to have in shaping how people think about that?

Q: What behaviors need to shift beyond just accessing data – and who is responsible for that? What markets do you need to create, support, encourage to bring about change?

Q: What is your theory of change/behavioral model? How do you want people to use the data - and what do we still need to figure out so that we can get better outcomes?  Does open data on its own create a better process, or are there other steps?

Q: Do we need to create/identify new/additional points of connection with government - to re-brand participation so that more people will participate?

Q: Is there an organizational model for accelerating this process of collecting data? Is there a proposal that you could put together to say “if we had $X we could get this done in 18 months?”  What would allow this to happen - without wide option/understanding, but just force it through?

Q: How do you scale this conversation, so people outside of the good government discussion are interested in participating? How do you make this a project that ‘normal’ people want to join as well?  

Q: What is the marketplace for open data? Can you create a more aggressive incubator model that encourages startups or other groups to solve specific problems (less open ended)?

Q: Who are the best partners that you want to get?  What types of organizations (or specific organizations) do you want/need to embrace open data and civic tech in order for this conversation to become that much more mainstream?

Q: Is there a business model where you sell insights, recruit programmers, help organizations to take full advantage of the data that you collect?  

Q: Can you build a solutions component into this - to project where people should focus their attention?

Washington Post’s Crime

Q: Is there a product or products (technology, data licensing, editorial, training/insight) that can be developed – what would people pay for?  

Q: Is there a marketing/editorial strategy to raise the profile of this to help build momentum?  What types of public pressure/interest would help to break down barriers and build support for what you are trying to do?

Q: What other data or services could you utilize to create context?  What other issues (population movements, real estate transactions, etc) would you want to overlay to enhance the analysis of the crime data?

Q: How do you survive when other crime focused sites have failed (to gain traction, to get funding)?  What have you learned about tracking, and presenting, information about crimes from these other sites?

Q: How could you make crime reports a tool that every jurisdiction/paper could use (so that it doesn’t have to rely on just one newspaper to support)?  Could you build this as a service that you could offer to other jurisdictions (beyond Washington and surrounding areas)?

Q: What can you learn from Ushahidi (or similar) about crowd-sourced data entry of crime data?  Are there ways to build an army of contributors to help break down some of the data barriers or distribute the responsibility of human interaction?

Q: Is there any type of existing database tool (e.g. Salesforce) that has figured out some of this problem for a different industry that you could learn from/borrow?  Are there other agencies who are trying to do something similar - but for different reasons - that could be explored as partners?

Q: Do you need to establish the standards for data tracking (and influence the agencies in how they do it) in order for this to work?  Is there value/benefit to helping these agencies do a better job that would incentivize them to participate?

Q: Is there a marketing strategy/way to raise the profile of this project to help apply public pressure or interest in this projects?

Q: Is there a ‘Data as a service’ model where you could spit out trends and narratives that other media organizations, civic groups, etc. could take on - even if the Washington Post doesn’t?

U.S. News & World Report’s Presidential Campaign Tracker

Q:  Is there a product or industry spin-off for this? How could this become its own brand (e.g. the next 538/Nate Silver)? How could you PUSH out this information so that it becomes part of the regular conversation?

Q: What other data sources could be tracked and integrated/analyzed along with the visits (e.g. (miles traveled, modes of transport, fundraising data, surrogates, types of events, etc)?  Who could you partner with to get that data?

Q: Is there a way to actively collaborate with other news organizations (e.g. the exit polling coalition) so that other organizations could contribute to the tracker, or benefit from the tracker?  For example, Mark Knoller tracks travel and other activities already for the President… how do you tap into that (or coordinate with him)?  Is there historical data that you can compare - to gain additional context?

Q: What other applications of this tracking could you explore (e.g. tracking Congressional visits and who funds them)?

Q: Can you integrate social media content or similar to tap into geo-spacial or track other details for the database.