Community activists and civic ‘hacktivists’  gathered in at City Hall for the 2nd Oakland City Camp earlier in November, sharing up-beat conversations on the future of Open Government and Open Data.  While most sessions and discussions focused on the intersection of  technology and civic process, there also were side discussions about diversity, privilege and digital divide and how these impact Oakland.

The CityCamp agenda.

Over 130 people attended and began engaging around issues like crime reporting and access to detailed crime statistics, economic development, civic learning, accessing public records, and the city budget.  [Click this image to see the complete City Camp agenda.]

The successes last year by Open Oakland, the tech-oriented “Brigade” that works with Code for America and a constellation of other city brigades around the country, and the three Code for America fellows assigned to Oakland projects, had caught the attention of other activists and groups who had questions about the make up of the group.  These questions spurred an ad hoc session on diversity and participation at City Camp and also consumed most of the first Open Oakland meetup following the event.

Sonny Le, who is on the board of Oakland’s Museum of Children’s Art (MOCHA), attended the recent City Camp and was one of the people who asked for a session on diversity, both at City Camp and in Open Oakland, and in the technology field in general.  Since City Camp followed the rules of an UnConference, where participants vote on the session topics and can lead sessions of their own, this easily fit into the format of the event.

“Open Oakland may have become a good thing too fast for its founders. It seems to have become all things to all people who clamor for change,” Le told Oakland Local. “Open Oakland needs to figure out what it is and what it wants to be: a civic engagement nonprofit, a tech group for social good consulting, or geeks and nerds who want to see Oakland change?”

But Le and other minority participants also had positive views of the fledgling group. “What Open Oakland has been able to accomplish, especially with  City Camp and ReWrite Oakland,  has brought together a disparate group individuals who haven’t given up on Oakland. It’s easy to look at what’s not working in Oakland and be dismissive and cynical instead of committing time, energy and skills to making things better. Technology may not be the answer to Oakland’s myriad of problems, but Open Oakland has proven that the right technology can, and should, be a tool to help improve things,” Le said.

Open Oakland co-founder Steve Spiker encouraged the discussions and offered more time at the Tuesday meeting of Open Oakland, held at City Hall.  “”Some attendees raised concerns about the lack of diversity in both the technology sector and amongst the attendees of Citycamp Oakland. Despite increased outreach, it’s clear that OpenOakland’s tech and community members have to focus not just on changing things at City Hall but to reach out to the whole city to ensure our efforts are inclusive of all groups in Oakland. ”

IMG_6112Although the majority of the tech people who work on Open Oakland projects are male and white, there has significant participation by Asians and Hispanics.  Many of the community participants and attending city employees are female.  Open Oakland has also been supportive of programs like the Hidden Genius Project, Hack the Hood and Black Girls Code which aim to bring the benefits of technology careers to youth of color.

At the Tuesday followup meeting,  new participants explained that OpenOakland was being seen as a powerful, resourced, and privileged organization.  There was great interest in getting involved, but there were perceived barriers in the needed skills and in  understanding the workflow and organization of OpenOakland.

Members of OpenOakland were supportive of increasing the inclusiveness of the organization and agreed to redouble their efforts at communications and outreach throughout Oakland.  Earlier in  2012 and 2013, they said that they had hosted on-going discussions on the digital divide in Oakland.  But they also noted that OpenOakland needed more participants, both from community organizations and those with technical skills.

According to Spiker, “We actually have trouble attracting coders, hooking coders into projects, and keeping coders interested.”

Yet, Steve Spiker remained upbeat.  “At CityCamp, we saw just how strong the appetite is for Oaklanders to be able to work together to help bring the city into the 21st century smarter and more collaboratively.”

“Session topics showed just how many people care about the same issues and also just how much has not been accomplished so far in our city – the ongoing frustrations about public safety, strategy for economic development and the ability to work across city departments and community groups effectively,” he said.

Several elected officials helped sponsor the annual City Camp event when some local corporate sponsors from the first year were unable to contribute to covering the costs of keeping City Camp a free event.  City Council members Dan Kalb, Libby Schaaf, Pat Kernighan and Mayor Jean Quan each pledged amounts of $100 to $25o.

Looking for the session notes from City Camp?  They are here.

Find more photos from City Camp at this link .






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