When Tim Moreland talks about his work to use government data to solve community dilemmas like insufficient affordable housing, he watches as people's eyes glaze over.

So, Moreland tries to suppress the nerd inside and speak in plain language.

He and other members of the grass-roots group Open Chattanooga -- tech-savvy folks who recently got a grant to work with city government -- hope to connect with the nontech world to teach the practical side of geeking out.

Tonight, they're asking community leaders to bring their problems, from crime in neighborhoods to inefficient public transit, to Battle Academy to see if applying a little tech can lead to solutions.

"We're hoping to have the neighborhood leaders and people that have a good sense of what the problems are and the technology design-type folks and mashing them together to see where their interests overlap," Moreland said.

Then designers and developers like Daniel Ryan, who was the front-end developer for President Barack Obama's re-election campaign, will try to build apps to solve those problems.

"If things you build as part of open data, open government aren't useful to citizens, then why are you doing it?" Ryan said.

Open Chattanooga isn't a new concept. Earlier this year members held a hack-a-thon at the Chattanooga Public Library for developers, designers, writers and residents to brainstorm ways to use the city's public data.

In September, the city put up $180,000, along with two grants for $250,000, and won a fellowship with Code for America. So Open Chattanooga has re-branded and formed another citizen-led group called Open Chattanooga Brigade. The brigade has also worked with the library, which will host all the data that programmers will be able to access.

Nate Hill, the library's assistant director, said the concept of the library storing the information in a portal is cutting-edge across the country. And the library is hiring an employee to manage the information.

City officials will then provide the type of data that will become public for anyone to use. First, Moreland has to decide what information is pertinent and he's working in City Hall once or twice a week. Right now he's working on public safety data.

Stacy Richardson, Mayor Andy Berke's senior adviser and chief policy officer, said the administration's goal is to improve city services to the community.

Ryan is also configuring applications to build a working budget so residents could go online and compare what their tax dollars buy them in city services. Potentially, residents could build their own hypothetical budgets.

 (c) 2013 the Chattanooga Times/Free Press (Chattanooga, Tenn.)