Hacking for a Healthier California

05/29/2015 10:42 am ET | Updated May 29, 2016

California dodged a bullet late last year at the "Happiest Place on Earth." Last December, a measles outbreak was traced to Disneyland. Before it was contained, it had spread to a half-dozen U.S. states, Mexico and Canada. Nearly 150 people in the United States caught the highly contagious virus. Considering this disease remains one of the leading causes of death among young children globally, miraculously, all those infected survived.

During the outbreak, the New York Times created an informative, interactive map that allowed anyone to easily find out the vaccination rates for every Kindergarten class by school in the entire state of California. Parents could easily see how likely it was that their unvaccinated child could catch the virus if it spread to their community. Not only is this information extremely valuable to parents, but it could also help inform public perception about why vaccinations are important.

So where did the New York Times get this information? Vaccination rates are just one example of government health data that has been made available by the California Health and Human Services Agency (CHHS) and its recently launched open data portal. Today, reporters, civic technologists and policy advocates are using this newly accessible information to create tools and services to improve the health of their local communities.

Take Jesse Rosato for example. He's a Sacramento-based web developer and Code For Sacramento Brigade leader who helped create a mobile app called WICit. Using health data available on the CHHS Open Data Portal, Jesse developed a platform that helps families easily figure out which grocery stores accept WIC benefits, a federally funded health and nutrition program for women, infants, and children.

But, there is still a lot of health data that has yet to be tapped. This is why we are so excited that Saturday, June 6 is the National Day of Civic Hacking (#NDoCH). Technologists, government officials, developers, designers, community organizers and thousands of other passionate citizens all across the country will come together and come up with new, innovative solutions to address some of the biggest issues affecting their communities such as education, public safety and transit.

In California, there will be a focus on health in Fresno, Sacramento and Los Angeles. These hackathons are sponsored the California Health Data project, a new statewide project funded by the California HealthCare Foundation's (CHCF) Free the Data Initiative to build a bridge between the State's health data and local communities. Ultimately, democratizing this data and getting it into the hands of people, communities, and organizations who can put it to good use is essential. And we need your help.

We're bringing our health data effort to the Aspen Ideas Festival, and whether you are a technical expert or generalist, ask yourself these two questions:
• Do you want a future where non-confidential health data is accessible to the entire community?
• Do you want the power to make lasting changes in your family and neighbors' health?
If the answer is yes, please take a few moments and Vote for our idea by June 8th and a chance to win $25,000 which will go to:
• Expanding the California Health Data pilot to other cities
• Fostering new relationships between willing and eager civic technologists to work closely with local community health experts
• Providing training for local communities and government on handling and finding new ways of applying health data.
And if you're a California based technologist, practitioner, or someone else who wants to get directly involved with the project, check us out at: