- New blog post: BarCamp NewsInnovation and TransparencyCamp http://t.co/p7uAjI68Mq cc: @TCampDC @BCNIPhilly 22:47:31, 2013-05-12
- RT @phillyrb: Learn about Ruby 2.0 with @david_a_black tomorrow! http://t.co/FAMVaw8cZB 19:42:50, 2013-05-13
- RT @briantimoney: The Economist: open public data as a new goldmine that could spur innovation. http://t.co/hcz3sgTNDb ht @byrne_tweets 21:01:18, 2013-05-16
My presentation with Keya Dannenbaum at TransparencyCamp: "Civic engagement, local journalism, and open data"
After my WordCamp Nashville presentation, I transitioned from talking about how to write clean code, to talking about how the web is transforming the world of journalism, and what it means for civic engagement. This was the topic of the BarCamp NewsInnovation talk two weeks ago in Philadelphia given by Dave Zega and I (we work together at ElectNext). I also presented a longer, more in-depth version at TransparencyCamp in Washington, DC last week, with our CEO, Keya Dannenbaum.
Both conferences were “unconferences,” which means there’s an emphasis on discussion rather than long presentations, and the schedule is determined by the conference participants themselves, on the morning of the conference. However, both had some pre-scheduled talks, including ours.
The TransparencyCamp talk was titled “Civic engagement, local journalism, and open data.” Here’s the summary:
A fundamental purpose of journalism in the United States is to inform citizens, so that they can effectively engage in democratic self-governance. The ongoing disappearance of local newspapers in the digital era is well known, resulting in the decline of traditional watchdog journalism at the local and state levels. There are discussions of “news deserts” and unchecked malfeasance by elected officials. At the same time, we’re seeing the rise of citizen journalists, the growth of organizations that harvest, enhance, and distribute an ever-expanding range of data on government activities, and the creation of new opportunities to share, discuss, and analyze information vital to civic engagement.
For the goals of achieving government transparency and effective self-governance, what has been lost and what has been gained in all these transformations? Is the net effect positive or negative, and what lies ahead? In this talk we’ll lay out the different arguments in this debate, and we’ll engage the audience in the conversation.
I was really impressed by the quality of the audience questions at both conferences, and their engagement with Twitter. Our talk generated over 40 tweets at Transparency Camp. Here are samples from both talks:
@MobileTrevor Result of losing local news is fewer voters, lower civic participation, increased corruption, etc says @mtoppa #TCamp13
@zpez how can you maintain local engagement after an acute issue is resolved? build stronger networks; tap into the ppl w/ the data #TCamp13
@_anna_shaw The ‘digital political baseball cards’ from @ElectNext are pretty darn cool… Gonna be playing around with these later. #TCamp13
@ianfroude Local papers dying, so ‘ppl have gained access to the world (intl/natl papers) but lost access to their backyard’ #TCamp13
@jmikelyons: Politicians know everything about us, we know little about them. The Big Data Divide. Big civic problem #bcni13
@emmacarew #bcni13 impressive: folks at @electnext are working directly with the mayor’s office to makes data not just available but accessible
Transparency Camp was the larger of the two – over 600 people attended. Some traveled quite a distance to be there. In our talk we had questions from people involved in the media from as far away as Poland and Uganda.
Both conferences had a great sense of community. Many of the conversations I heard around me were similar to conversations we have at ElectNext, about how to bring greater transparency to government activities, and making open government data accessible and useful. I also had an unexpected but very welcome encounter: while passing through a crowd I heard a nearby voice say “hey Mike Toppa,” and turned to see a face I hadn’t seen in over 10 years. It was a former co-worker from my time at HighWire Press. He works at the Sunlight Foundation now. It was great to catch up and compare notes on our work. After the conference, I also got to catch up with my old friends Pat and Emma, from my days at Georgetown.
Here are the videos for both talks. If you only have time for one, I recommend the TransparencyCamp talk (the first one below). Below the videos are my summaries of the sessions I attended at Transparency Camp.
Transparency Camp Notes
These are my own brief summaries of the talks I attended. Most sessions had note takers, and their notes are at the TransparencyCamp site.
- Electoral districts API talk: this was an overview of different initiatives out there, and pros and cons of different approaches. If you use maps to determine districts, you can do things like determine a district from a geo-location. But you can’t disambugate things like apartment buildings that are split between districts, which is actually fairly common (often by odd/even apt numbers or by floor). This is called “packing” or “cracking”, depending on the goals of the gerrymandering (to either dilute or concentrate the voting power of a group of voters, and/or aid or hinder turnout efforts). District boundaries can also vary for state rep vs state senator, etc. At a technical level, using maps is easier. Addresses are harder because of the volume of data involved and you can’t rely on geo-location. Google is building up data based on addresses; most others are using maps.
- A new project for city and state level engagement from opengovernment.org: they’re releasing a platform soon for facilitating citizen engagement with city councils, state reps, etc. It includes a petitioning system and lets elected officials register their own accounts, for direct online interaction with constituents. It also allows for entering info on legislation, etc, but isn’t a legislation management system.
- “Municipal Open Gov efforts don’t scale down” – this was a discussion of the challenges of providing open gov in smaller cities, which don’t have the resources of big cities like Philly, Boston, etc. Short version: the only way to make this happen is to provide systems that help solve real city management problems (i.e. transparency for transpareny’s sake isn’t going to happen if it means creating more work for already overworked staff) and give those systems an open api, so openness requires no additional effort.
- Tracking shadow campaign money: this was led by Robert Maguire from OpenSecrets. It was fascinating but depressing: after the Citizens United decision, it’s become almost impossible to track hundreds of millions of dollars in campaign money. He described a complex set of schemes involving phony non-profits and other front organizations where money is moved around repeatedly so it’s hard to track. The FEC and IRS requirements are so minimal now, it’s hard to tell where the money is coming from or how it is spent. But at Open Secrets they are able to give at least some top-level figures through IRS records, but often only a year after the fact. So they can get a rough sense of how much is being spent in total through this new shadow system, but they can’t get many specifics.
- RT @indyhall: Check out yesterday’s @nytimes, we’re on the front page of the Style section!! http://t.co/vpRB47XuTF 11:04:57, 2013-05-06
- Video of my #tcamp13 presentation with @keyajay for @Electnext http://t.co/hibcdrCCmN Civic engagement, local journalism & open data 21:45:50, 2013-05-07
- RT @miniver: I am completely prepared to have my sentimental feelings about Spock exploited by this car commercial.
- RT @KentBeck: "One bad programmer can easily create two new jobs a year" preach it, Parnas: http://t.co/vfNioQdHBm 08:41:17, 2013-05-11
- New blog post: WordCamp Nashville 2013 cc: @WordCampNash #wcn13 19:05:17, 2013-05-11
- For the 20th anniversary of Babylon 5, @TheAVClub is doing fresh reviews of every episode. Here's one of the best http://t.co/j5cHBSfhww 22:03:47, 2013-05-11
Spring is conference season, and I’ve given four presentations in the past for weeks: two in Philadelphia, one in Nashville, and one in Washington DC. Each presentation was different, and I did most of the preparation outside of my regular work hours, so I’m looking forward to not doing any more presentations for a while
I already wrote about the first presentation – Knowledge Slam, and a few days after that I headed to Nashville for their 2nd annual WordCamp. I also presented at the first one last year, which was my first time in Nashville. For both trips I was there for only a couple days, but I was able to get out and see some of the city each time, and I have to say it’s a great place. It’s a small, clean city, with very friendly people, and has culture and arts you’d normally find only in a bigger city… as long as you like country music.
My friend Caryn from grad school lives there now, and after I arrived Friday evening, I headed to the Station Inn to meet her, and see a show by Eric Brace and Peter Cooper. I’d never heard of them before, but Caryn was a fan, and after hearing the first song, so was I. Here’s a version of that song – “Ancient History” – that they recorded for Couch by Couchwest:
…If you liked that, I recommend the album.
The WordCamp was great. It had 3 tracks scheduled – one for beginners, one for users, and one for developers (a 4th was actually added on the fly, to accommodate the variety of skill levels in the beginner track). I spent the day in the developers’ track. Something I was excited to see in several of the presentations was a wider focus, showing WordPress as part of a broader ecosystem of development tools, as opposed to being the only tool in a developer’s toolkit. This came across especially in the talk about using WordPress in an enterprise software environment (unfortunately there is no information about this talk online), and Nathaniel Schweinberg’s talk on debugging strategies (many of which apply beyond WordPress).
My Clean Code talk was scheduled between those two, which was perfect, as the 10 techniques I presented are ones which you can apply to any software development project, not just WordPress. My talk went really well, with lots of good questions at the end. We even went over our scheduled time (normally that’s not allowed, but I was right before lunch, so it didn’t take away from anyone else’s speaking time). Here are some of the tweets people made during my talk:
Here are my slides, as well as the recording of my talk I made with my Flip camera (a professionally recorded version should be available on wordpress.tv sometime in the next few weeks)
- I'm presenting w/@keyajay for @ElectNext at #TCamp13. Voting for talk ideas ends today! If you like ours, vote it up! http://t.co/7Q3mqTcJwg 10:18:41, 2013-05-01
- RT @baselinescene: Must read: http://t.co/7i4soeCodF; how "an industry with nearly unlimited resources can avoid a set of tough-minded refo… 16:55:37, 2013-05-03
- #Tcamp13 is on! My session w/@keyajay for @electnext is at 11:30. Civic engagement, local journalism, & open data http://t.co/iR5JU5cGjV 09:03:57, 2013-05-04
- RT @stereogab: The revolution will be comma-delimited #opendata #tcamp13 http://t.co/aRrLpq88xx 13:23:35, 2013-05-04
- RT @TCampDC: .@mtoppa giving a rundown of @electnext's functionality in #rm307: http://t.co/ak1oVE9rsv #TCamp13 14:02:20, 2013-05-04
- @overviewproject @ElectNext Yes we're here! Tweet me back and we'll find a place to meet. in reply to overviewproject 14:10:49, 2013-05-04
- RT @pjcgwu: #tcamp13 great panel from @ElectNext showcasing their new data tools http://t.co/kDpGZITMCU 14:15:52, 2013-05-04
- .@WordCampNash wants to know where people traveled from – "I'm not angry, I'm from Philly" http://t.co/Esonon3nkI #wcn13 in reply to WordCampNash 08:17:52, 2013-04-21
- @mgyura Yes, it was a great WordCamp, and my presentation yesterday went well. My slides http://t.co/Y7Z0gKjCOT in reply to mgyura 08:30:34, 2013-04-21
- RT @mertonium: If you're going to #TCamp13 check out (and vote up) this idea from the @ElectNext team: http://t.co/E3WEUCJa8Z 14:02:49, 2013-04-22
- Thank you @HarvardBiz for dispelling misconceptions about Big Data http://t.co/4RITy7rqLE 11:43:13, 2013-04-24
- @PlanPhilly We're presenting together at BCNI on Saturday (I'm with @ElectNext). Please get in touch so we can plan! 20:54:01, 2013-04-24
- I'm excited to represent @ElectNext w/@davezega at @bcniphilly on Sat. We're presenting on civic engagement web tools http://t.co/2w2ceG5zrS 08:44:45, 2013-04-25
- "Responsive design is not a mobile strategy" @josephjames at #bcni13 11:32:20, 2013-04-27
- RT @emilyingram: #bcni13 @electnext: they're making data that's technically publicly available and making it really public accessible. 13:17:45, 2013-04-27
- RT @emmacarew: #bcni13 impressive: folks at @electnext are working directly with the mayor's office to makes data not just available but ac… 13:18:01, 2013-04-27
- RT @jmikelyons: Politicians know everything about us, we know little about them. The Big Data Divide. Big civic problem #bcni13 @electnext 13:21:29, 2013-04-27
- Great presentation by @josephjames and @nacin on the extensive use of #WordPress at the @washingtonpost #bcni13 http://t.co/24QLGuZDsc 13:29:02, 2013-04-27
- If you missed the #bcni13 civic engagement presentation from @davezega and I for @electnext, I'll post the video tonight 13:33:11, 2013-04-27
- The unconference board at #bcni13 – on the fly conference planning, with opportunities for anyone to present http://t.co/vv9W0FybJd 13:39:46, 2013-04-27
- RT @kaitlynanness: Great info from @ElectNext about the presentation of big data to the avg. civilian, will be using their info this electi… 13:54:01, 2013-04-27
- Video of my @WordCampNash presentation "Clean Code for WordPress" is now online http://t.co/NNRnt8l7C4 #wcn13 19:10:48, 2013-04-27
- Grrr – I don't know how I missed this! RT @timwis: @NotThatBreezy demoing staterep.me at #bcni13 http://t.co/xzPu6OLxj6 cc @ElectNext 19:25:07, 2013-04-27
- Here's the video of the @ElectNext presentation at #bcni13 by @DaveZega and I http://t.co/R1nE60FBwH 19:42:54, 2013-04-27
- RT @ElectNext: Making Open Government Data Sustainable
http://t.co/e2YOxA2D8C via @sunfoundation #OpenData 10:59:11, 2013-04-14
- Next Sunday I'm presenting Clean Code for WordPress at @WordCampNash, with lots of tips for novices & pros. It's going to be a barnburner! 13:56:58, 2013-04-14
- RT @iA: "We use your cookies against you…always call the airline directly and check on the price—sometimes it's much cheaper" http://t.c … 19:59:22, 2013-04-14
- Yikes, got the date wrong on my last tweet! Let's try that again… 05:45:23, 2013-04-15
- On Saturday I'm presenting Clean Code for WordPress at @WordCampNash, with lots of tips for novices and pros. Learn to make your code shine! 05:47:21, 2013-04-15
- RT @mheadd: Awesome post by @pamasaur on the #opendata community in #Philly. http://t.co/9a5DJSvs0E @opendataphilly @AxisPhilly @CodeFor … 11:35:34, 2013-04-15
- RT @WordCampNash: Want #clean #code? We'll show you clean code. @mtoppa Saturday at #wcn13. Clean #WordPress is happy WP. http://t.co/2N … 05:51:42, 2013-04-17
- Previously I've explained Agile in 1 hr. Tonight @ 6 I'll do it in 5 min at KnowledgeSlam Green Line Cafe 4426 Locust http://t.co/dq6q2ptk63 09:30:16, 2013-04-17
- Dubious but true start-up ideas http://t.co/PH606nmyWQ 12:51:18, 2013-04-17
- Knowledge Slam tonight was a blast! Here are some details, and a clip from my presentation: http://t.co/HqUQW1hpFn 21:27:42, 2013-04-17
- Hello Nashville WordCampers! There's a real problem with flights to your city – too many people with carry-on guitars #wcn13 18:01:23, 2013-04-19
- Saw Peter Cooper at the Station Inn last night. I'm now in the proper state of mind for WordCamp in Nashville http://t.co/tPDreUyIcl #wcn13 08:12:01, 2013-04-20
- RT @gianlucaSB: "people are more productive when they're alone, but they're more innovative when they're together." http://t.co/gg8fDbQoDf 09:57:13, 2013-04-20
- Great talk by @netaustin on selling and building WordPress at the enterprise level. Beware the "taxonomy committee" #wcn13 10:21:31, 2013-04-20
- RT @lukestokes: @mtoppa really enjoyed your clean code talk at #wcn13. Great material more developers need to hear. 13:03:45, 2013-04-20
- Slides from my Clean Code for WordPress talk are now online. 10 tips to make your code cleaner & maintainable http://t.co/PxtWbVuJnu #wcn13 13:34:27, 2013-04-20
- My favorite talk so far today at #wcn13 is @nathanielks presentation on debugging http://t.co/7uyHi09Tns 14:22:23, 2013-04-20
- Introduced the @ElectNext Political Profiler #WordPress plugin at #wcn13 today. Transparency for elected officials http://t.co/SadF7nmMEz 23:20:59, 2013-04-20
I presented at the Philadelphia Knowledge Slam tonight on job satisfaction and Agile. It was a lot of fun! The hardest part was putting together a coherent presentation that fit within the strict 5 minute limit, with no slides allowed. There were 10 great presentations on a wide variety of topics: the songs of Robins, the latest innovations in genetic treatments for sickle cell disease, screenwriting, cultural myths and personal myths, baking, tips for networking, the mis-measuring of educational achievement, and more.
This was my first time going – Knowledge Slam is held the 3rd Wednesday of every month. Check out the Facebook page for more info.
Short clips of each presenter were recorded. Here’s mine, followed by my complete script.
About 4 years ago I read a book by Malcolm Gladwell called “Outliers: the Story of Success.” Buried in the middle of that book he wrote a few paragraphs that, for me, were the most important part of the story. He described the 3 things that make a job rewarding. The things that make you look forward to a day at work when you get up in the morning.
First is reward for effort – this means money of course, but it also means recognition. We want our boss and our co-workers to let us know we’re doing a good job.
Second is having challenging work – work that isn’t routine and boring, but isn’t so hard that it becomes frustrating. Work that’s in that sweet spot in between, where the work engages your skills and makes you feel that you are learning and growing.
So those first two are pretty straightforward. The third one is the most interesting to me: a rewarding job is one that gives you autonomy. You have a feeling of control over your work, and you feel that your actions and decisions are meaningful. You can make things happen without someone second-guessing you all the time. It’s the opposite of feeling like a cog in a machine.
This struck a chord with me because at the time I wasn’t really happy in my job. I create web sites and web applications for a living. I’ve been doing it since ancient times – the early 1990s – when the first web pages were painted on cave walls in bison blood. And I wasn’t alone in feeling this way. Job satisfaction surveys of Americans show that between half and three quarters of Americans are unhappy in their jobs. If you consider that we spend about half of our waking lives at work, that’s a depressing statistic.
So I decided it was time for a change, and I made a terrible, terrible decision – I went into management. I joined the ranks of the people who are ultimately responsible for all those unhappy workers. I figured, there must be a better way to do this. So I did my homework, and I started learning about this thing called Agile, with a capital A. It’s a way of managing work that originated in the software industry and has been spreading to other types of work. And it’s got a great name, who doesn’t want to be agile?
But I learned it’s more than just a buzzword. Learning and following Agile practices made me fall in love with my work all over again. I would need to talk for at least an hour to explain how it all works, but since I just have a few minutes, I’ll focus on the part that relates to this idea of autonomy. In a lot of workplaces, you have responsibility, and your boss has authority. You don’t have autonomy. Managers talk about being results-oriented, but most are really more focused on control. Since you don’t have autonomy, you may not be motivated to do great work, so you’re given more policies and procedures to follow. The end result is management gets work that meets a consistent but minimal level of quality, and you don’t get a whole lot of job satisfaction. The undercurrent here is a lack of trust.
So how does Agile fix this? First, it gets management’s focus where it should be: on results, not control. And it provides some new ways of measuring progress and results that don’t depend on micro-management. And second, it adjusts peoples’ roles, so you actually have authority over the things you are responsible for. It gives you autonomy. It’s really about training management to get out of the way for the day-to-day work, to foster a learning environment, and to step in only when help is needed. It means treating people like adults, and creating an environment of trust.
And when you have trust, great things can happen. People start working together and pooling their skills to solve problems. This happened recently at General Electric. They had a water heater that was made in China. Here in the US a team of engineers, factory line workers, even sales and marketing people, all got together and completely redesigned it. By pooling their skills and experience they came up with a new design that was so much less expensive to manufacture, GE moved the manufacturing for the water heater back to the US, creating jobs here, and lowered its retail price by $300.
At the end of the day, its not policies and procedures that get the credit for good work and great products, it’s enthusiastic and empowered people.
- Project Managers Will Kill Your Company RT @sallamar http://t.co/wtaxeiX7gV 08:28:29, 2013-04-09
- The @phillyrb meetup at @natmechanics – good presentations! http://t.co/ZUj0UpRSc3 21:08:51, 2013-04-09
- RT @MarcNazarian: Nice #agile #retrospective booster shot by @estherderby http://t.co/SxKkb0zR7q 12:14:26, 2013-04-10
- RT @NewsHour: Check out the @ElectNext tool in the #MorningLine. Gives you an overview of the politicians mentioned in the post http://t … 12:43:29, 2013-04-10
- @nacin Congrats! That's great for the PHP and the WordPress communities. Do you know if it'll be recorded? in reply to nacin 06:35:05, 2013-04-12
- RT @AERA_EdResearch: Data science: “the sexiest job in the 21st century”? http://t.co/4qSer2PLqY via @nytimes 06:35:37, 2013-04-12
- What to do on Easter Sunday in Tokyo? A zombie parade of course! http://t.co/Awd2DnMulp #fb 11:34:09, 2013-03-31
- .@NYTimeskrugman's cogent and succinct comparison of the Keynesian vs. the conservative view of what ails the economy http://t.co/MqxX5jled7 17:15:14, 2013-03-31
- Dear followers: what Mac Twitter client do you recommend? I keep missing direct tweets and replies just using http://t.co/5aBGqcWBoa 17:28:38, 2013-03-31
- New blog post:
WordPress: community and architecture http://t.co/r8yoxouUBK 14:39:29, 2013-04-01
- New blog post:
Gettysburg, 10 years later
http://t.co/aSvNXEt4JE 20:50:29, 2013-04-01
- I'm looking forward to @trevmex's Kanban talk at #PhillyETE tomorrow http://t.co/ufPsCoyh2F 21:12:49, 2013-04-01
- Keynote at #PhillyETE – reinforces a key aspect of "big data" – it's amazing how little needs to be known about you to predict your behavior 08:45:15, 2013-04-02
- Great #PhillyETE talk on Scrum by Ken Schwaber – how to measure success? Hint: it's not individual velocity http://t.co/QyAVpVa5ml 10:38:13, 2013-04-02
- RT @trevmex: Training does not make you agile. Coaching does not make you agile. An environment that is supportive of change makes you a … 10:41:59, 2013-04-02
- In his Ruby talk at #PhillyETE, @jimweirich is showing video of his quadcopters. He has a bright future at http://t.co/lC2ouatwjq 11:35:54, 2013-04-02
- RT @ElectNext: Great day @ElectNext! $1.3M raised to contextualize political data for the news, & launched with @NewsHour @PolicyMic … 13:44:53, 2013-04-02
- #PhillyETE day 2: great keynote by @richhickey relating music to coding "Design like Bartok, code like Coltraine" http://t.co/vzeGXKBtCM 09:06:45, 2013-04-03
- Great TechCrunch article about what we're up to @ElectNext http://t.co/05NeJRQflJ 10:08:52, 2013-04-03
- @hakjoon You'll find a post on it if you google it. There's "water-scrum-fall" too. And I hear IBM has a tool for converting json to xml… in reply to hakjoon 20:51:21, 2013-04-03
- Thanks everyone for the Twitter app suggestions. I'm trying TweetDeck. Ok so far, except I get an unhelpful error msg trying to use it w/ FB 08:35:58, 2013-04-04
- Great idea! Philly Tech Week Meta-Meetup for local tech Meetups http://t.co/6DDv01VU6L but it's the same time as the DataPhilly Meetup 09:02:14, 2013-04-04
- @nevildevil Fantastic job Joe! in reply to nevildevil 20:13:02, 2013-04-04
- Only 2 days before he died, Roger Ebert wrote a blog post filled with plans for his future. It's both sad & inspiring http://t.co/tLUPL4Nz2t 20:36:52, 2013-04-04
- RT @sferik: Awesome trend in Japan of staging photos in the style of an anime fight at the moment of an invisible energy attack: http:// … 13:30:59, 2013-04-05
- Nice having a coworking space that's a gallery RT @alexknowshtml: Latest chalkboard drawing @indyhall by @alrightmike http://t.co/a4xUsuKO23 15:19:55, 2013-04-05
- TDD drags me kicking and screaming to the obvious, elegant solution I might not otherwise discover. Makes me feel like a pro and an amateur. 15:26:55, 2013-04-05
- A great collection of Roger Ebert quotes http://t.co/kqUmb3Jl9B 16:51:13, 2013-04-05
- RT @mjumbewu: "@rcheetham: Virtual library in the train station http://t.co/662CbKQMRK City of the first free library has another readin … 20:54:40, 2013-04-05
- @credly @Jtsternberg @webdevstudios congratulations on BadgeOS! in reply to Jtsternberg 16:29:26, 2013-04-06