Launched: Operation Decode San Francisco [Guest Post]

Putting on a hackathon – let along a bicoastal one – is no small feat.  But Emily Hong, a Summer Fellow in the San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation - put on a terrific one last week.  We were lucky to be a part, and launch Operation Decode SF along with such generally awesome people.  Before Emily heads back to start her senior year in college, she shares an in-the-room recap of the night and, most importantly, it’s outcomes.
- Team OpenGov
Launching Operation Decode San Francisco
- Posted by Emily Hong (smiling below)
San Francisco, CA - On August 7th, 2013, around 75 people gathered over pizza, beer, and laptops to think critically about “discovery, analysis and connection with citizens made possible with open legislation data,” in the words of San Francisco’s Chief Innovation Officer, Jay Nath, delivered during the opening remarks of the Open Legislation Hack Night.
The Hack Night, organized by the San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation in partnership with Code for America, The OpenGov Foundation, and sponsored by GitHub, Granicus, Socrata, Esri, and, was aimed at fostering community interest, exploring the possibilities, and rallying the local developer community around the cause of Open Legislation.
Affectionately termed “Operation Decode San Francisco” by the pirate-accessory clad developers at the Open Gov Foundation, this event was hosted at Code for America’s San Francisco HQ. Attendees included 50+ developers and engineers, joined by representatives from at least five different government agencies, students, civic activists, and attendees from the private sector.
The City of San Francisco is at the beginning of a long term effort to increase public access and understanding of its legal codes; as part of this effort, SF will become one of the first US cities to release a technologist-friendly version of city codes as open data, as well as implement a version of the State Decoded XML schema for these documents – the latter being one of the key projects hackers took on at the event.
Other outcomes and projects generated from the hack night include:
  • A easy admin code browser: (built by Matt Luedke the weekend prior and based on
  • SF Decoded:, a group effort from Thomas Levine, Jason Lally, Jeremia Kimelman, and Simon Chaffez, which took the bulk files released by SF MOCI and and began parsing them into the State Decoded and DC Code formats.  This project was supported by Seamus Kraft and Chris Birk of the Open Gov Foundation)
  • SF City Officials Authorized Powers (, built by James Gill and Colin McCormick – a proof-of-concept app which lists the city officials and what authorized powers are granted to them by the SF City Code.  Each authorization is linked to the relevant section of the code that grants them the power.  Currently, the list is a sample selected by hand, but once the SF Code is structured via XML (or similar), we could generate the list automatically.
Fun Outcomes
  • SF Administrative code archival files were merged into one file on GitHub (the commit history tracked changes between 9 different versions)
  • A section of the admin code was put into Gizzoogle and then into Rap Genius, a website dedicated to the annotation and interpretation of hip-hop music SF MOCI is beyond thrilled to already have tangible products that can be cited as use cases as a result of this hack night. A recognition ceremony at City Hall recognized project submissions and work on August 9th.  While the various uses generated as a result of open legislation are still emerging, one could envision Open Legislation eventually empowering groups like partner GitHub, to develop technologies on top of the data to enhance understanding, improve access, and discover new insights for the city and its citizens based on the City’s legislative resources.
Some promising future directions include
  • Working with the OpenGov Foundation get the State Decoded launched for San Francisco (estimated beta delivery by September) and building a long term sustainability plan around supporting that product
  • Engaging the local developer community to help legislative technology companies like Socrata and Granicus build APIs for their products
  • Working with City Hall agents to get support for the standardization and continued release of legislative data
Event Sponsors: GitHub, Code for America, Esri,, OpenGov Foundation, Granicus and the SF Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation.