Pitching at D.C.’s open data day, or, how I learned to stop worrying and Lean In

23 February 2015

Friday and Saturday, I took part in D.C.’s Open Data Day hackathon, one of many that took place worldwide. The way it works, people come with civic-minded projects they want to work on and make a pitch. Then, participants break off and join projects they’re interested in helping to create. At the end of the day, each group presents back on what they accomplished.

In the days leading up to Saturday, I started thinking about a project I’d like to see — something based off the reporting on college campus crime I did with The Dispatch last fall. I envisioned a website or app where students could search for their college and find crime statistics and the results of any audits to those numbers. Right now, students have to go to two somewhat obscure websites maintained by the Department of Education to get that information, so having it in one (more visible) location would make that information more useable for students, parents, faculty and others interested in the stats. And, ideally, this site would put those numbers in context, because as our reporting showed, the statistics often include (or exclude) information you could logically expect to be excluded (or included).

I had this idea, but I was really, really nervous about pitching. It was my first hackathon. I wasn’t sure how well my project would fit in with the others. And the idea of standing up in front of a huge crowd of strangers was intimidating and outside of my comfort zone. But… I really believe this would be a useful tool for folks to use. The day before the hackathon, the organizers at the dBootcamp asked if any of us planned to make a pitch, and with my heart racing, I raised my hand and shared my idea. People were receptive! I was encouraged, but still nervous. In my head, I kept thinking, “this isn’t something I do.” Eventually, I stopped myself: This is totally something I do. I have ideas, and I share them. When I reframed the excuse in my head, it didn’t have merit anymore.

So, Saturday, I pitched! It was still nerve-wracking (don’t I look excited in the photo below?), and I’m sure I fumbled over my words and could have been more articulate. But, I did it!

About a dozen people volunteered to work with me on this project, which was beyond my wildest expectations. You can see our working notes here. Together, we mapped out what a website with this information would look like and also what kind of story it would tell. We cleaned some data. We started visualizing the statistics. We registered a domain. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but it’s a really good start. I’m so appreciative of the help and support I got from not just my group but the whole hackathon community. This is exactly how to get (and keep) people involved who might otherwise pass on the opportunity, and I’m so glad I didn’t talk myself out of pitching or participating.