Thursday, April 30, 2015

Esri: GIS, Civic Hacking & Open Data Initiative

Esri (aka Environmental Systems Research Institute) is an international supplier of Geographic Information System (GIS) software, web GIS and geodatabase management applications, per Wikipedia. Many cities and other government bodies use Esri software, including Appleton, Wisconsin, USA.

Esri has been an integral part of many civic hacks and civic hackathons. Yesterday's post on this blog featured a four-part guide for GIS use in civic hacking that was written by the the head of the Honolulu office for Esri. The company has been a major sponsor for civic hackathons such as Hack For LA, Hack 4 Colorado, Austin Open Data Hackathon, and the New Orleans Techarrette. Like it says on,
"When designers, developers, and entrepreneurs sign up to hack towards making the civic experience better, we want to be there. Esri's built an awesome platform with cool tools to create, share, display and build location-based apps. We believe uniting cloud, web, and mobile technologies with location information and analytics leads to great apps that help solve problems that people encounter every day. We want our tools in the hands of the community so they can build what would be most beneficial and useful to them."
Esri has also supported the Code for America civic hacking efforts, per the CfA blog:
"CfA Fellows’ projects have used ArcGIS and Esri APIs in too many ways to count. We’ve created public interfaces and maps based on Esri-driven city backends – like OpenCounter, which looks up zoning in Santa Cruz using the city’s Esri ArcGIS server. Top Esri employees have helped us develop our process for new civic data standards, helping CfA identify patterns in city datasets. Last year a group of Fellows even made the trip down to Esri’s headquarters in Redlands, Calif. for a week-long collaborative hackathon with the City of Honolulu GIS team, and Fellows have attended and spoken at Esri conferences over the past two years."
In 2014, Esri launched its Open Data Initiative explaining the open GIS web portal in its Feb 2014 blog post. Directions Magazine article "Ten Things You Need to Know About Esri’s Open Data Initiative" also covered the launch of the Open Data Initiative:
"At the Federal GIS Conference...Esri introduced its Open Data Initiative, an effort to encourage and enable the creation, publishing, easy access and use of open geospatial data...Local, state and federal agencies as well as a variety of private and non-profit organizations worldwide already share open data. They do it in simple ways, such as providing downloadable shapefiles from a static webpage. They do it in more complex ways by publishing Web services. They do it using Esri and other GIS tools. The new capabilities that Esri is planning will simplify these sometimes cumbersome manual processes and perhaps offer better solutions to both open data publishers and open data users."
In addition to its Open Data site linked above, Esri has information and resources relevant to open government GIS data on its Gov 2.0 webpage. There are useful GIS videos and resource links, as well as sections for government GIS professionals and for developers working with GIS.

The City of Appleton uses Esri GIS tools, and even if civic hackers use non-Esri mapping tools on June 6th at the civic hackathon, familiarity with Esri tools and formats will be important. The Appleton GIS open data sets, found in the Data Download section of the Appleton GIS webpage, use the Esri Shapefile format to provide maximum compatibility.

One last note is that Esri is supporting the USGS Open Water Data Initiative. A December 2014 US White House Fact Sheet explains that,
"Esri is collaborating with the Open Water Data Initiative (OWDI) to jointly stand up a showcase Water Open Data portal that will extend accessibility of key water data as interactive services and tools through which selected data can be viewed, accessed, subscribed to and downloaded in various formats through an intuitive user interface...In partnership with the nongovernmental organization GLEON, Esri will stand up a citizen-science crowdsourcing application to facilitate information sharing in regions across the globe." 
I hope to connect with civic hackers interested in the Open Water Data Initiative and will be writing a post on that topic for this blog.

If interested, check out Esri's website, or use Google to search for specific Esri topics.


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

GIS Guide for Honolulu / Appleton Civic Hackers

Honolulu, Hawaii
So the main point of today's post is a follow-up to Heath's post from yesterday about GIS & civic hacking. He gave you a taste of what GIS (geographic information system) is in relationship to civic hackers. This post will let you dive into GIS a bit deeper if you're intrigued with the topic and want to know more of the nuts and bolts as it relates to the June 6 civic hackathon.

Since I'm not a GIS guy, the best thing I can do on this topic today is to point you to a four-part GIS guide written for a Honolulu civic hackathon, as linked and discussed in the blog post "On to the Hackathon, Maps at the Ready."
"...maps are one of the most compelling components of websites and apps, and in recent weeks, the city has been putting more of its GIS map data online, just in time for the Hackathon. Today brought the publication of a four-part “GIS Guide for Honolulu Hackers.” The guide was prepared and announced by Royce Jones on the CityCamp mailing list. Jones previously served as Senior GIS Analyst with GDSI Hawaii and is the head of the Honolulu office for ESRI (one of the world’s leading Geographic Information System firms). The guide was posted in PDF format on the GDSI site
Part 1 – GIS 101 and REST map services 
Part 2 – ArcGIS Online and intelligent web maps
Part 3 – Embedding web maps and creating map galleries 
Part 4 – JavaScript, Flex and Silverlight Web Mapping APIs 
...The guide offers a great walk-through with several screenshots, and links to documentation and live services."
So my advice to everyone considering working with GIS at the "DHMN Civic Hackathon/Appleton 2015" is to click on Parts 1, 2, 3 and 4 of the GIS Guide above and read through them. If you have questions about the stuff you read, do online research before June 6 and talk to coders or GIS people you know to get answers to more of your questions. Then bring all your ideas and the rest of your questions to the June 6 event. Heath or others there should be able to answer your remaining questions, or be able to fairly quickly figure them out.

Maybe we can even get Esri to send a rep to participate in our Appleton hackathon. They've supported many other civic hackathons, so it would be fantastic if they supported ours by having an Esri rep help make our GIS hacks are awesome! I'll work with Heath and Esri to see if they'll send a company GIS guru to Appleton as a hackathon participant.

In addition to the four parts linked above for the Honolulu guide, you may want to look at the open data portals for Portland and Denver.
Portland, Oregon

Portland's GIS webpage looks pretty comprehensive and links to an overwhelming number of maps and mapping tools. Checking out some of the Portland maps might give you an idea for doing a GIS civic hack in Appleton.

Denver's GIS collection is also quite impressive. When I checked for data tagged as GIS on the Denver Open Data Catalog, it returned a list of 170 GIS open data sets. And the DRCOG Geospatial API Cookbook might be of interest to northeast Wisconsin GIS civic hackers.

Let me know if you're aware of other cities with highly useful or effective GIS open data webpages, and I'll update this post to list them above after the Portland and Denver sites. (Send links to bwaldron (at) gmail [dott] com.)
Denver, Colorado

We'll have more GIS civic hack posts on this blog, so check back if you want to map out your plans for the June 6th civic hackathon...


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The GIS and Civic Hacking Interconnection

[Guest post by Heath Anderson, City of Appleton GIS Dept.]

GIS (geographic information system) is the procurement, storage, and analysis of spatially related data, while civic hacking relates to the altering of data to solve community-orientated problems.  Such problems could be anything from voter registration to park information.  Many of said problems have a spatial component that is quantifiable; these components could be a point representing an address or a polygon representing a park.  However, without additional information, a polygon is just a blob and a point is just a dot.  GIS enables the user to not only accurately visualize the location of a feature with real world context, but also identify additional values of said feature. For example, one park feature could contain the following information: park name, address, hours, picture of the park, related website, playground information, and other amenities.

What do civic hacking and GIS have in common?  They are both service-based elements that stem from a need or a problem.  GIS has evolved exponentially in the past decade, from mostly analytics to 3D mapping and mobile-friendly components.  The forging of these two ideas, GIS and civic hacking, is found when peering through the lens of a geohipster.  An article written by Gavin Schrock for Professional Surveyor Magazine outlines a geohipster and what makes that person tick.
If one thing characterized geohipsters, it is developing solutions if current ones do not meet their needs…
The image above represents data extracted from an open source warehouse and tells the story of contributors to OpenStreetMap (
The Twitter hashtag definition is “#geohipster - the vanguard of the neo geo geospatial communities, savvy with GIS, open source geospatial, associated social media and collaborative software development sites like Github.  They are professionals, pro-sumers, bloggers, customizers, and technicians.  They are the way after legacy GIS. They love maps, mapping, they know a surprising amount about projections, PostGreSQL, PostGIS, ARC-this-and-that, etc.  Not exclusively young but open minded.”’
I will not pretend to know much about civic hacking, as the DHMN Civic Hackathon/Appleton 2015 will be the first one I have attended, but both GIS and civic hacking enthusiasts seem to possess an understanding of, and work with, open source data, free exchange of ideas and collaboration to better the community.  In summation, GISers and civic hackers can feed off each other, creating imaginative methods of gathering data and telling stories using images.


Monday, April 27, 2015

Help Prepare: June 6th Civic Hackathon in Appleton

If you're super-excited about the upcoming June 6th "DHMN Civic Hackathon/Appleton 2015" event, you may want to direct some of that passion into helping prepare for the hackathon!

I've developed a community advocate rule-of-thumb over the past 20 years, called the 1/9/90 Rule. Here's how the 1/9/90 Rule works. For every 100 people that are interested in a topic or in being part of a community-of-interest, there will be the following levels of participation in that topic or community-of-interest, or in events in that community.
  • 1 person out of 100 will be a founder or core driver of an event or community.
  • 9 people out of 100 will actively help organize a community or event or help do needed tasks in the community or during the event.
  • 90 people out of 100 will consider participating in a community or event that they've previously expressed interest in. Participation levels among these 90 depends on focus of the event or community, effectiveness of the marketing and communication about the event or community, the perceived uniqueness or benefits offered by the community or event and other factors. Strong participation is probably 50 out of every 100 who had expressed an interest and have heard of the event, while low participation is 5 out of 100. 
Three specific factors that significantly raise participation levels in a community or event are:
  1. Being personally invited to participate and having it made easy to register, with follow up by the person doing the inviting.
  2. Having the person doing the inviting identify a participation benefit that has strong appeal to the potential participant.
  3. Knowing about other participants whom the potential participant enjoys doing things with or would like to meet.
If YOU are one of the 9-out-of-100 who will actively help prepare for a civic hackathon, please
consider contacting me about one of the following Hackathon Prep roles that will help make the June 6 event even better than it will already be.

Hackathon Prep: Recruit Participants
We are most likely to have lots of civic hackers gather on June 6th if many people personally invite others to participate. The civic hackathon will be most fun and most effective if we have many people who bring a wide variety of experience, knowledge and interests. The top priority is to get a good mix of developers, people who have different coding skills, especially knowledge about open datasets, manipulating databases, scraping data from the web, creating mobile apps and responsive website, etc. For other types of people to invite see the blog post about non-coder activities.
Hackathon Prep: Social Media / Spread The Word / Marketing
Communicating and promoting the civic hackathon are important for three reasons. First, effective marketing and promotion will make sure a large number of potential participants know about the event and realize there are good reasons for them to participate. Second, strong marketing and persuasive promotion will help raise the credibility and visibility of civic hacking among government officials and administrators around
northeast Wisconsin. And finally, a highly visible, credible and well-marketed event will benefit event sponsors and will encourage more organizations to sponsor civic hacking activities in 2015 and in future years. If you want ideas on how you can help market the event, contact me, and we can discuss various ways you can help hackathon marketing!
Hackathon Prep: Research Civic Hacks
Help is needed to research civic hacks. Because this is the first civic hacking event in the region, and because there will likely be few highly experienced civic hackers participating in our June 6th hackathon, research hacks will be very useful. That research will help us get more done on the day of the event. Those participants who have researched civic hacks will know what they want to work on and can help explain civic hacks to other participants.
Hackathon Prep: Figure Out Appleton GIS Civic Hacks
It looks like the main Appleton open government datasets we'll have for use during the hackathon are GIS datasets (geographic information system). So it would be a good idea if some participants research GIS civic hacks before June 6. Contact a few local GIS people, contact others doing GIS civic hacks, and figure out one or several hacks we can do with the Appleton GIS public datasets.
Hackathon Prep: Fork Civic Hack Code On GitHub
If you're a knowledgeable GitHub user, you could research some of the civic hacks that are on GitHub and choose one to fork before June 6 for the Appleton hackathon. If you fork it (please consider using the DHMN Civic Hacks GitHub account) and get it all set up to be modified for Appleton's use, our civic hacking time on June 6 will be more
productive. As you can see on GitHub, we've already forked at least one civic hack for the hackathon in Appleton.
Hackathon Prep: Be A Sponsor / Recruit A Sponsor
Sponsors are a key part of participant-driven events, like this civic hackathon. Sponsors make it possible to (1) bring in experienced civic hackers from other areas, (2) have a good venue, Internet access, meals and supplies to make the event more effective and fun, (3) have participant freebies like event vinyl stickers, event t-shirts, sponsor t-shirts or hoodies, tech tool swag, sponsor shoulder bags or backpacks. If you're willing to be an event sponsor, contact me at bwaldron (at) gmail [dott] com. If you have questions about recruiting a sponsor for the event, also contact me.
Hackathon Prep: Write Blog Posts
I plan to do a blog post related to civic hacking each day between now and June 6th. If you are highly interested in, or knowledgeable about, a topic related to civic hacks, it would be great to have other people's perspectives on this blog. Guest posts would also give the blog readers a break from my style, which would be a good thing!! Contact me, and we'll work out the details.
Hackathon Prep: Interview A Civic Hacker
If you know a civic hacker, or if you're willing to research and reach out to one or several interesting civic hackers, it would be great if you could interview them for a post on this blog. The interview could be done via email, +Hangouts or Skype video calls, or in-person. If you want interview questions to ask the civic hacker, I've got a list you can use for a starting point. After you do the interview, I'll help you get it written up into a blog post if you want assistance with that.
Hackathon Prep: Develop Website For NE Wisc Civic Hacks
As you may have noticed, the only current 'website' for DHMN Civic Hacks and for the DHMN Civic Hackathon/Appleton 2015 is this Google Blogger one. It would be helpful to have a more versatile and capable website, but I'm not a web developer and no one else has volunteered yet to help build a site. If you are a web developer and want to build or help build a real website for DHMN Civic Hacks -- and help with a little site maintenance for at least a year or so -- please contact Bob Waldron at bwaldron (at) gmail [dott] com.
I'm sure I forgot a number of prep activities. If there is some way you'd like to help that's not listed, please contact me at bwaldron (at) gmail [dott] com. Let me know if there's anything I can help you with as You help make our civic hackathon better!


Sunday, April 26, 2015

Hack Challenges: National Day of Civic Hacking 2015

If you registered for the "DHMN Civic Hackathon/Appleton 2015" you may be wondering about what you'll do on that day. Last week the tentative agenda for the hackathon was in a blog post. Most people who want to work on a coding-focused hack will probably be using open datasets from the city of Appleton. Another option at a civic hackathon is to participate in a challenge, or civic hacking contest.

Hackathon challenges are usually designed so you have to do most of the work building the hack at the event, in order to give all participants a fair chance of winning. You should still prepare for the challenge, though, by researching the event, researching the challenge topic, making a list of online or real-world resources you might need during the event, and generally becoming as knowledgeable about the topic as you can.

Regarding challenges for the National Day of Civic Hacking (NDoCH) on June 6, 2015, Code for America (CfA) says:
"The theme for National Day of Civic Hacking is Principles for 21st Century Government. We encourage events to organize around one or more of the Principles. In addition to the theme, we’ll be offering challenges for organizers to use at their events. We anticipate offering challenges in the areas of Health; Safety and Justice; Economic Development; Climate; Disaster Relief; Oceans; and Mapping."
I haven't seen online info from CfA with more information or details regarding their NDoCH challenges, but I've set up a couple Google News Alerts to track news about these challenges. Posts on this blog will bring you info about the challenges as I find out more.

In addition to the NDoCH challenges organized and promoted by CfA, there may be other challenges civic hackers can work on in Appleton on June 6. An example of this is the "Visualizing Nutrients Challenge" from the US Geological Survey (USGS) and US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). If you want to read a little about this challenge, check out the USGS news release "Seeing into Water in New Ways: The Visualizing Nutrients Challenge." I'll do a future post on this challenge with lots of details and links because it seems like an interesting and worthwhile challenge (partly because I'm a chemical engineer with lots of experience in water treatment, water quality, and environmental impact).

Another challenge being offered on NDoCH 2015 is the Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) "DetectaRobo" contest. The challenge is for you to use FTC-provided data from a honeypot to predict which incoming calls are robocalls. The odd thing about this challenge is that it's appears to be promoted as an opportunity for the (thousands of) civic hackers participating in NDoCH, but the FTC is limiting it to the first fifty challenge registrations they receive after 9 AM on June 6. Limiting the challenge to fifty people or teams seems like an incongruous feature of an activity designed for a day that's supposed to engage thousands of people in civic hacking. I sent an email to the FTC asking why they're limiting it to 50 registrants and requesting they allow many more people to participate in the DetectaRobo challenge. I'll keep you informed on this blog if the FTC responds to either of my requests.

The Visualizing Nutrients Challenge and the DetectaRobo Challenge may both be challenges that CfA promotes on NDoCH, but for now they appear to be independently offered by the USGS / EPA and by the FTC.

The two challenges described above deal with US federal government open datasets. Other civic hackathon challenges deal with local government open datasets. Examples of local dataset challenges are listed along the right side on the ChallengePost "Hack For LA" 2013 event webpage. That event had $24,650 in prizes for the challenges, and those challenges had sponsors like AT&T, Google, Chase Bank,, and Esri. Hack For LA is doing a two-day 2015 civic hackathon in association with NDoCH 2015, and they will likely have 2015 challenges similar to the ones offered in 2013, which included:
  1. Google Challenge: Best Environmental/ Health app -- a challenge to focused on using the wealth of public environmental and health data to clear up the confusion and help people make better choices.
  2. Chase Bank Challenge: Best app related to jobs, business, and economic development -- create the best app for Los Angeles economic development, including apps that help people look for jobs, job training, apps that serve local small businesses, help foster local entrepreneurship etc.
  3. ESRI Map Challenge -- this challenge awards $1,000 for the best app that uses an ESRI map layer for a civic purpose.
  4. CGI Challenge -- for the best use of Los Angeles-specific data in an app or visualization.
If we can get AT&T, Google, Esri, Autodesk, Microsoft, NASA, Skyline, Omni, Heartland, one or several banks located in Appleton, and other organizations to be sponsors, the DHMN Civic Hackathon/Appleton 2015 could offer June 6th challenges with prizes. Those challenges aren't the primary focus of our Appleton event or a necessary feature of our civic hackathon. But they would make the event more interesting and possibly be an incentive for some developers to participate in the event.

Check back on this blog periodically to find out more info regarding challenges for civic hacking and open government data that you can participate in.
If you haven't done it yet, register for the June 6 DHMN Civic Hackathon/Appleton 2015 event. Because this is the first Northeast Wisconsin civic hackathon, we only have room for 100 participants, so REGISTER TODAY!!


Saturday, April 25, 2015

Civic Hacking In The News: April 25, 2015

Last Saturday on this blog my post highlighted a few online news articles related to civic hacking. I'll probably do that every Saturday because it gives you a break from reading my writing. It also prompts me to use Google News to find out what's happening in the world of civic hacks. Reading those news articles helps me learn about interesting people, tools, activities and organizations involved in open government data and open government tech.

Today's articles start out with a new report from the Pew Research Center called "Americans’ Views on Open Government Data." The full Pew report can be found here, but this article gives a few highlights of Americans' views related to open government data, including these statistics:
"Few Americans think governments are very effective in sharing data they collect with the public:
  • Just 5% say the federal government does this very effectively...
  • 5% say state governments share data very effectively...
  • 7% say local governments share data very effectively...
82% of adults say they are comfortable with government sharing data online about the health and safety records of restaurants. 
One of the issues for proponents of open government and open data is whether people are aware that government data undergird key businesses. Perhaps the most prominent example is that government weather-related data are the foundation of large numbers of weather-forecasting companies and analysts...The Pew Research survey asked the 68% of the sample who have smartphones several questions about their use of government-created data material:
  • 84% have used weather apps to find out the forecast nearby.
  • 81% have used map apps to navigate through a city or neighborhood.
  • 66% have used an app to find out about nearby stores, bars or restaurants.
Despite widespread use of commercial applications that rely on government data, just 9% (among all Americans) say that the data government shares with the public helps a lot with the private sector’s creation of new products and services..."
A article about open government data in Philadelphia, "Welcome to the Open Data Movement’s Turbulent Teenage Years," shows one possible reason that only 7% of the people in the Pew survey felt local governments share data very effectively. Open government data sounds like a good and reasonable thing when discussed in the abstract sense, or when you're talking about somebody else's data. But even if the data is public and should be available to all citizens, all kinds of reasons can be found to not change the status quo, i.e. not-open government data. This Philadelphia story should be mandatory reading for all cities that consider launching an open data initiative.
"Hired by Mayor Michael Nutter in August 2012 to be Philadelphia’s first chief data officer, Headd was supposed to deliver on the Mayor’s ambitious promise to transform the city’s notoriously opaque ways of doing business. On paper, Philadelphia was ready for the open data revolution...the Mayor had signed an Executive Order that created Philadelphia’s first-ever Open Data Policy and mandated releases of city-held data...Now it would fall to him to convince city officials to unlock the countless other public records that remained veiled and make the data open: publicly available, easily accessible and readily downloadable to any Philly resident — and anyone else who had heard of the Internet. 
The city had reached what Headd calls “that messy, uncomfortable, adolescent phase of open data.” Now it was time to go beyond creating fun apps and make one with the hard stuff: public employee salary data, city government expenditures and property records that, while available online, aren’t offered to the public in a user-friendly form...The CDO began meeting with department heads and requesting access to data sets that had never before seen daylight. He explained his belief that no one should have to file a right-to-know request to discover salaries of city employees or embark on a cumbersome online search to find if a house with code violations also has a property tax balance...“Everybody’s in favor of open data when it’s easy, when it’s quick,” says Headd... 
He recalls meeting with people from the city’s Department of Finance to explain in careful detail how to release sensitive expenditure data and noticing midway through the meeting that no one was taking notes. “I realized they don’t expect me to be here anymore. Or they don’t expect me to have the ability to tell them what to do anymore,” says Headd...After one year and seven months, in April 2014, Headd stepped down as Philadelphia’s chief data officer. 
The tension between Headd and his colleagues in City Hall was in many ways par for the course...There is always resistance to change, and public officials’ hesitation to release certain data is to be expected..."
This article, "Palo Alto Writes Playbook (Literally) for Hosting an Apps Challenge," talks about a civic hack activity that Appleton or another northeast Wisconsin community like Green Bay, De Pere, Oshkosh, Fond du Lac and many others might consider after we've built an active civic hacking community.
"Done right, an apps challenge can bring to life community ideas to solve city problems through civic engagement apps — something the city of Palo Alto, Calif., did...Reichental and Palo Alto have learned a thing or two from hosting the city’s first Apps Challenge — a multi-month endeavor culminating in a live broadcast and innovative and functional apps — and have funneled this knowledge into an Apps Challenge Playbook, downloadable and free to the public. The recently released playbook is a resource for anyone wanting to repeat Palo Alto’s success by providing a step-by-step guide to planning and running an apps challenge. 
The Apps Challenge followed several other citywide civic innovation events and open data initiatives, including an open data portal... 
Nearly 90 teams entered the Apps Challenge, all with thoughtful and interesting ideas, he said. Then from January through May, the city engaged in six events to attract and nurture talent and ideas, find the best apps, and promote the apps and the challenge, which the city estimates involved more than 5,000 community members."
Although the last article for today, "25 cities partner for health care innovation," isn't about an open source civic hack, it does talk about using a 21st century toolbox to address common problems in public health, community health, health services and healthcare technology.
"The 2015 Multi-City Innovation Campaign focuses on health and human services challenges where technology interventions intersect, and can directly impact, city or county government services and goals. Twenty-four cities, the state of Rhode Island, Nashville-based Jumpstart Foundry, Code for America and the National League of Cities are supporting the challenge along with Esri and Socrata, which are providing open datasets. The best ideas could receive $5,000 from cities that are interested and believe prototypes meet their needs.  Prototypes have the possibility of receiving a total of $120,000 if each participating city decides to award the $5,000 prize.  Additionally, proposals that are awarded prize money will also be considered for an open slot in JumpStart Foundry’s 2015 class, and up to $100,000 of seed capital investment."
The civic hacking community in northeast Wisconsin isn't strong enough yet to justify a well-funded event like the Multi-City Innovation Campaign. But we can still learn from events like this and from the civic tech that hackers in those cities create.


Friday, April 24, 2015

Civic Hacker Profile: Theodore Roosevelt

Reading and thinking about what famous American civic hackers did can help us understand some of the ways we can do civic hacking in 2015 even if we aren't computer programmers and don't write code. That's why two founders of America, Hamilton and Jefferson, were featured in posts earlier this week.

A third high-profile American civic hacker was Theordore Roosevelt. His roles and actions in various government-affected areas improved the lives of those governed in quite a few ways. In honor of the widespread positive impact he had on the lives of millions of American citizens, the Borglums carved Roosevelt's face on a mountainside in the Black Hills of South Dakota (their civic hack for America). Below are just a few of the examples of Roosevelt's civic hacks.

Theodore Roosevelt held numerous civil service positions including NYC police commissioner, Governor of New York and Asst Secy of Navy. He was a Lt. Colonel and formed the First US Volunteer Cavalry Regiment a.k.a. Rough Riders 1898 to fight in the Spanish-American war. His most famous military action was leading his Rough Riders in their charge up San Juan Hill. Roosevelt remembered the battle that day as "the great day of my life." For his role in that bloody action, where 200 of his men died, he was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously.

Roosevelt was US President for two terms, from 1901 to 1909. He did many civic hacks as president, especially as a leader of the Progressive movement, the primary goal of which was to eliminate corruption in government. In addition to busting up several monopolies, he fought for safer food and drugs. Roosevelt was instrumental in cleaning up the unsanitary and unsafe conditions in the food packing industry by leading the charge to pass the Meat Inspection Act of 1906 and the Pure Food and Drug Act. The Pure Food and Drug Act defined "misbranding" and "adulteration" for the first time and the penalties for actions prohibited by the legislation. The food packers weren't happy, but millions of Americans benefited from those two Acts.

"Under the law, drug labels, for example, had to list any of 10 ingredients that were deemed "addictive" and/or "dangerous" on the product label if they were present, and could not list them if they were not present. Alcohol, morphine and opium, and cannabis were all included on the list of these "addictive" and/or "dangerous" drugs."
Roosevelt left the Washington political scene after two terms. However, after watching from the sidelines and disagreeing strongly with how the US government was running the country, he decided to run for president one more time. He couldn't secure the presidential nomination of the Republican party for the 1912 elections, so he founded the Progressive Party, also known as the Bull Moose Party and ran under that banner. He did end up getting more votes for president than Taft, the Republican candidate, but he lost to Woodrow Wilson, the Democrat candidate.

Roosevelt and John Muir by a Yosemite sequoia
According to National Park Service, he played a huge role in preserving America's natural wonders for future generations. President Roosevelt,
"doubled the number of sites within the National Park system. As President from 1901 to 1909, he signed legislation establishing five new national parks: Crater Lake, Oregon; Wind Cave, South Dakota; Sully's Hill, North Dakota (later re-designated a game preserve); Mesa Verde, Colorado; and Platt, Oklahoma (now part of Chickasaw National Recreation Area). However another Roosevelt enactment had a broader effect: the Antiquities Act of June 8, 1906. The Antiquities Act enabled President Roosevelt and succeeding Presidents to proclaim historic landmarks, historic or prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest in federal ownership as national
monuments. Roosevelt did not hesitate to take advantage of this new executive authority. By the end of 1906 he had proclaimed four national monuments: Devil's Tower, Wyoming, on September 24 and El Morro, New Mexico, Montezuma Castle, Arizona, and Petrified Forest, Arizona, together on December 8. He also interpreted the authority expansively, protecting a large portion of the Grand Canyon as a national monument in 1908."
To learn more about Theodore Roosevelt, read his Wikipedia entry, then become more familiar with one of the top US civic hackers by getting a recommendation for a good biography about him from your local librarian.

(By the way, public libraries are a civic hack in which Andrew Carnegie played a huge part, having built half the public libraries in the US by 1930...)


Thursday, April 23, 2015

DHMN Civic Hackathon/Appleton 2015: Agenda

[Agenda updated May 26]

People have been asking what the agenda is for the June 6th "DHMN Civic Hackathon/Appleton 2015." We don't have everything pinned down yet, such as sponsors or where we'll do the hackathon, but the tentative agenda is below.

A few of the agenda details will depend on the venue and who sponsors the event. So some of the agenda items may vary slightly, but overall this should give you an idea of what the day looks like.

Because this is the first northeast Wisconsin civic hackathon and because we have no idea who will show up, we're planning for a two-track event. After the opening comments at 9 AM, the hackathon participants will likely split into two groups.

One group will be the coders / developers who will work on the classic civic hacks of doing interesting things with publicly available data. Stuff like the work Greg Tracy of Madison did on SMSMyBus, as described in this Isthmus article. A lot of the June 6 coding work may revolve
around GIS data, because that seems to be the primary type of Appleton open datasets currently available. Those coders may need some non-coding hack team members, so if you're a non-coder but want to work on a hack team that's building a coding civic hack, stick with the code-focused group and find a team that can use your skills and knowledge.

The other group will be non-code focused people who want to learn about or share their knowledge about civic hacks that aren't primarily dealing with coding. This group is also for non-coders who can't stay at the hackathon all day, but want to learn a little more about what civic hacking is. The non-code focused group discussion before lunch will spend more time discussing what civic hackers are and what the non-programmer civic hackers can work on. (See also my previous blog post about non-coder activities in civic hacking.)

If all the non-coders who show up want to work on coding-focused civic hacks, we'll just have one big group work through the ideation session, then split up into hack teams and get to work!

[Agenda updated on May 26]

Tentative Agenda for "DHMN Civic Hackathon/Appleton 2015"
June 6, 2015

8:00 a.m. - Setup, test Internet access, registration prep, put up meeting signs, etc.

8:30 - Registration begins / get lunch ticket / meet other hackers

9:00 - Official hackathon kickoff: welcome, logistics for the day, brief comments by city rep

9:15 - Brief background on civic hacking, civic hackathons, example civic hacks

9:30 - Divide into two groups and start working
    • Code-focused civic hackers
    • Ideation session -- discuss possible hacks to work on and choose hacks of most interest to lead developers.
    • People pick the hack and team they want to work on. Team size and number of teams depends on number of people at hackathon, how people can contribute, and what skills the hack needs.
    • Non-code focused civic hackers
    • Group discussion about non-coding civic hacking that’s been done in other cities and ideation session to generate list of Appleton civic hacking people in the group can do during or after the June 6th hackathon.
    • Self-organize into small groups to organize and work on non-code civic hacks.
11:00 - Cafeteria opens (closes 1 p.m.); sponsors providing tickets for participant lunches.

12:45 - Wrap-up for non-code focused participants
    • Explain activities for remainder of day
    • Mention planned future NE Wisc civic hackathons
    • Point person contact info if interested in future civic hacking and open data work
    • Opt-in name and email address on civic hacking email list if interested
    • Non-code focused participants can stay and work on non-code hacks, stay and work with one of the code-focused teams, or head off to other fun activities around Appleton!
  1:00 - Continue team hacking; non-hacking teams work on their chosen civic hacks

  4:00 - Group discussion
    • Each team do five minute demo / explanation of their hack
    • Decide supper choices and logistics (everyone staying for supper chip in for cost of dinner unless we get a supper sponsor)
  5:00 - Supper-fetchers start working on getting food; teams continue hacking

  6:00 - Supper, group evaluation of the hackathon and agree on Next Steps

  8:00 - Esch Hurvis venue closes for civic hackers; hacking continues elsewhere??
    • If civic hackers want to keep hacking after venue closes, consider going to Denny’s, the Appleton Makerspace or other agreed-on late-night gathering spot that has wifi. Hackers who have time and interest to continue working together on Sunday figure out a time and place to meetup and resume work after a few hours of sleep. Can probably use the Appleton Makerspace on Sunday if there's less than 20 or 30 civic hackers who want to do a Sunday session.
The hackathon is being held at Lawrence University in the Esch Hurvis Room of the Warch Campus Center, 711 E. Boldt Way, Appleton, WI, 54911. There will be event signage, and people at the Campus Center desk can also point you to the hackathon room.

Parking will be challenging. Lawrence students are still on campus for spring semester. A map is below showing some parking choices, but the three options are (1) on-street parking with various restrictions or meters, (2) the city parking ramp or (3) Emmanuel United Methodist Church parking lot, if spaces are open there. If possible, give yourself extra time to park and walk to the Warch Campus Center. Click here for a map of the Appleton parking ramps.

If you're interested in the civic hackathon and haven't registered yet, REGISTER TODAY!! It's free, fun, and you'll earn 100 civic karma points...


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Civic Hacker Profile: Thomas Jefferson

Yesterday's post featured Alexander Hamilton, an early American civic hacker. Today's post will present a few ways in which Thomas Jefferson was also an important civic hacker.
Thomas Jefferson

One reason to publish these civic hacker profiles is to show ways in which people can participate in civic hacking even if they don't program computers or write code. As Catherine Bracy says in her TED video, the definition of civic hacking is evolving to mean helping build or improve government, bringing "a 21st-century tool set to bear on the problems that government faces." The term government here means all aspects of making and administering of the public policy and affairs of a city, county, state or country, instead of limiting the term to just the politicians, bureaucrats and buildings that many people refer to when they say government.

Many of the founders of America could be considered civic hackers. They saw something in the existing governing situation they felt needed changing, and they worked to make changes they thought would be good for their country. As Bracy frames civic hacking, "It's the idea that if you see a problem, you work to fix it, and not just complain about it." The American founders usually worked with others to fix the problems, but these civic hackers didn't all agree with each other. For example, Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson didn't agree on the relationships between the federal government and the states, or between the federal government and the individual citizens. Hamilton believed in a strong central government for America.

Thomas Jefferson took pretty much an opposite view. He strongly supported his new country, the United States of America, but he also believed deeply in the rights of the individual -- as Wikipedia put it:
"Thomas Jefferson was an American Founding Father, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence (1776), and the third President of the United States (1801–1809). He was a spokesman for democracy, and embraced the principles of republicanism and the rights of the individual with worldwide influence...A proper government, for Jefferson, is one that not only prohibits individuals in society from infringing on the liberty of other individuals, but also restrains itself from diminishing individual liberty as a protection against tyranny from the majority...And what country can preserve its liberties, if the rulers are not warned from time to time, that this people preserve the spirit of resistance?...To lose our country by a scrupulous adherence to written law, would be to lose the law itself, with life, liberty, property and those who are enjoying them with us; thus absurdly sacrificing the end to the means."
Jefferson was deeply committed to civic hacking, including writing the Declaration of Independence in 1776, cofounding the Democratic-Republican political party, developing a plan for decimal currency in the US, acting as President of the US for two terms, organizing the Louisiana Purchase and doubling the size of the US while he was president, and founding the University of Virginia.

One of his earliest civic hacks was being the primary author of the US Declaration of Independence. It appears he wrote that document at the urging of others, rather than because he sought out the opportunity, but it turned out pretty well.
"Jefferson served as a delegate to the Second Continental Congress...He didn't know many people in the Congress, but sought out John Adams who, along with his cousin Samuel, had emerged as a leader of the led to the drafting of Jefferson to write the declaration of independence. When Congress began considering a resolution of independence in June 1776, Adams ensured that Jefferson was appointed to the five-man committee to write a declaration in support of the resolution...the committee decided that Jefferson would write the first draft...Over the next seventeen days, Jefferson had limited time for writing and finished the draft quickly."
In another political civic hack, Jefferson and James Madison organized the Democratic-Republican political party in 1791.
"Democratic-Republican Party...was the second political party in the United States, and was organized by then United States Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson and his friend and compatriot James Madison, (then serving in the House of Representatives) in 1791-93, to oppose the Federalist Party run by Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton. The new party controlled the Presidency and Congress, and most states, from 1801 to 1825."
Jefferson also hacked the US financial system. He wrote the "Plan for Establishing Uniformity in the Coinage, Weights, and Measures of the United States," recommending that the US use a decimal system of currency. If we hadn't followed Jefferson's proposal for coinage, I might have bought my coffee this morning with guineas, pounds or shillings. The Continental Congress had actually established the decimal dollar, but Jefferson reinforced that position and his document was a defining document early in the country's history. (On a side note, his recommendation to follow the decimal system for weights and measures was debated but pretty much ignored.)

Jefferson was a key player in the Louisiana Purchase. The $15 million deal was complicated, and many people were opposed to it, but six US states and parts of nine other states came from that land deal. It also spurred the westward expansion of the US, and our country might be quite a different place now had Jefferson not gone ahead with that deal. Following the Purchase, Jefferson organized the Lewis and Clark Expedition, as well as two other missions to explore the country's western territory and boundaries.
"The Louisiana Purchase occurred during the term of United States President Thomas Jefferson. Before the purchase was finalized, the decision faced domestic opposition as some argued that it was unconstitutional for President Jefferson to acquire the territory. Jefferson agreed that the U.S. Constitution did not contain provisions for acquiring territory, but decided to proceed with the acquisition, being advised that the Louisiana Purchase was within the strictest interpretation of the Constitution, which allowed the President to negotiate treaties. The purchase included an agreement to remove France's presence in the territory and protect U.S. trade access to the port of New Orleans and the Mississippi River...Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours, a French nobleman, began to help negotiate with France at the request of Jefferson. Du Pont was living in the United States at the time and had close ties to Jefferson as well as the prominent politicians in France. He engaged in back-channel diplomacy with Napoleon on Jefferson's behalf during a visit to France and originated the idea of the much larger Louisiana Purchase as a way to defuse potential conflict between the United States and Napoleon over North America...Because the western boundary was contested at the time of the Purchase, President Jefferson immediately began to organize three missions to explore and map the new territory. All three started from the Mississippi River. The Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804) traveled up the Missouri River; the Red River Expedition (1806) explored the Red River basin; the Pike Expedition (1806) also started up the Missouri, but turned south to explore the Arkansas River watershed."
Jefferson was also a hacker/maker in non-government areas. He was a self-taught architect who designed and built his relatively famous residence that appears on the back our American nickel.
"In 1768, Jefferson began construction of his primary residence, Monticello...on a hilltop overlooking a 5,000 acre plantation. Construction was done mostly by local masons and carpenters, assisted by Jefferson's slaves, who also played a major role...Turning Monticello into a neoclassical masterpiece after the Palladian style would be his continuing project.As there were no architecture schools then, Jefferson learned the trade on his own from various books and by studying some of the various classical architectural designs of the day. His "bible" was Andrea Palladio's The Four Books of Architecture, which taught him the basic principles of classical design."
Thomas Jefferson's story ends thusly:
"During the last hours of Jefferson's life he...called the rest of his family and friends around his bedside and with a distinct tone he uttered: "I have done for my country, and for all mankind, all that I could do, and I now resign my soul, without fear, to my God, – my daughter to my country." After falling back asleep, Jefferson later woke at eight o'clock that evening and spoke his last words: "Is it the fourth yet?" His doctor replied, "It soon will be." On July 4, at ten minutes before one o'clock in the afternoon, Jefferson died at the age of 83, the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence and a few hours before John Adams, whose own last words were, "Independence forever," and "Thomas Jefferson survives.""
You may not have the influence of Thomas Jefferson in your city, state or country, but there are probably civic hacks he did which could inspire you to create 21st century ways in which you and your neighbors could be better governed, ways in which your government can better work for its citizens rather than in spite of them or against them.

Between now and the June 6th "DHMN Civic Hackathon/Appleton 2015," I plan to write several more posts featuring civic hacker profiles.

If you know a civic hacker you think should be profiled, and you can connect me with that hacker, please send an email regarding that to Bob Waldron at bwaldron (at) gmail [dott] com. I'll contact them and ask if they'll do an interview so I can profile them on the blog. Thanks!


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Civic Hacker Profile: Alexander Hamilton

Ben Franklin
In yesterday's post, "Why Good Hackers Make Good Citizens," Catherine Bracy of Code for America presented a brief profile of an early American civic hacker -- Benjamin Franklin. Today I'll highlight a couple civil hacks from another founder of our country -- Alexander Hamilton.

In her post, "6 unexpected historical figures with the civic hacker mindset," Bracy talks about some of her favorite American civic hackers from the early days of US history. Alexander Hamilton is one of those six, so we'll take a look at him in this post, and tomorrow I'll talk about a civic hacker from the same era who saw things quite differently from Hamilton. About Hamilton, Bracy says:
"My favorite founding father, Hamilton anticipated the biggest threats to the nascent United States and took it upon himself to make sure they were addressed. He was a main instigator for the Constitutional Convention and famously drafted the Federalist Papers, creating the political will to get the Constitution passed. After that, he set up the financial systems that allowed America to become financially independent from
Alexander Hamilton
and became our first Treasury Secretary."
Hamilton was a leading advocate of the US Constitution and wrote 51 of the 85 essays in The Federalist Papers, with his fellow Federalist authors being James Madison and John Jay. This collection of essays promoted ratification of the new US Constitution which was developed at the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention. The essays are one of the most studied and referenced sources of the early American leaders' views and intentions about USA democracy, legal systems, government's checks and balances, and other foundational aspects of how the new country should grow, be ruled and interact with both its citizens and the world around it. Writing those highly influential essays was definitely civic hacking.

James Madison and Alexander Hamilton were supporters of a strong national government and favored federal power over states' and individuals' rights. Hamilton stated those views when debating governing principles at the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention, as documented in "Notes of the Secret Debates of the Federal Convention of 1787."
"All communities divide themselves into the few and the many. The first are the rich and well born, the other the mass of the people. The voice of the people has been said to be the voice of God; and however generally this maxim has been quoted and believed, it is not true in fact. The people are turbulent and changing; they seldom judge or determine right. Give therefore to the first class a distinct, permanent share in the government. They will check the unsteadiness of the second, and as they cannot receive any advantage by a change, they therefore will ever maintain good government. Can a democratic assembly, who annually revolve in the mass of the people, be supposed steadily to pursue the public good? Nothing but a permanent body can check the imprudence of democracy. Their turbulent and uncontroling disposition requires checks."
I'm not a history aficionado, but it's fascinating to read the discussions the country's founders had when trying to structure how their new country was going to operate. I lean more toward the Jeffersonian view of individual's rights vs Hamilton's preference of a strong federal government dictating how things will work. I probably wouldn't have gotten along that well with Hamilton, which sort of says that civic hackers will not all agree on what's most important to work on or how to accomplish things.

After helping hack the principles and documents by which the United States of America (remember our favorite cartographer, Amerigo Vespucci?), Hamilton later helped hack the country's financial system as the first Secretary of the US Treasury Department. I'm not saying Hamilton could foresee the financial system shenanigans that led to the Great Recession of 2008, but it would have been nice if he had included a few checks and balances against that sort of stuff. So much for "rich and well born" doing so well to "check the imprudence of democracy."

I wonder what Hamilton would think about Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency. Similar to Hamilton being viewed as a civic hacker of the our nation's financial system, if America adopts Bitcoin as a currency with credibility equal to that of the US dollar, or if America establishes its own cryptocurrency, it's likely key players in the early days of cryptocurrency will be thought of as civic hackers.

In tomorrow's post I'll present a few ways in which Thomas Jefferson was an American civic hacker.

p.s. -- As stated above, I'm not a historian or even reasonably well-education in American history. Apologies for any incorrect facts or misinterpretations of civic hacking in the late 1700s (which nobody really knows for sure). Feel free to comment on this post if you want to present your view or the view of various interpretations of our country's past.


Monday, April 20, 2015

Why Good Hackers Make Good Citizens

It's hard to explain what civic hacking is to most people. To start with, the word 'hacker' means something bad to the vast majority of the world. A cybercriminal, someone who breaks into your computer, steals your information, steals money through the Internet.

That negative filter makes it difficult for a person to think about hacking in a good way. It's sort of like you're trying to understand how doing a bad thing can work out well and be good for the general public.

And for most people who aren't deeply involved with technology and familiar with open source software, the terms 'open data' and 'open government' are likewise meaningless, or at least hard to understand.

Today's post is the start of my effort to respond to someone I invited to the "DHMN Civic Hackathon/Appleton 2015." After I sent her an email with a link to a blog post about the event, she told me, 'I read the info, but I still don't get it. What is civic hacking?'

If you don't know what civic hacking is, or what a civic hackathon is, watch the Catherine Bracy video below, "Why Good Hackers Make Good Citizens."

Catherine explains that Benjamin Franklin was one of the earliest civic hackers in America. She says:
"Hacking is really just any amateur innovation on an existing system, and it is a deeply democratic activity. It's about critical thinking. It's about questioning existing ways of doing things. It's the idea that if you see a problem, you work to fix it, and not just complain about it. And in many ways, hacking is what built America. Betsy Ross was a hacker. The Underground Railroad was a brilliant hack. And from the Wright brothers to Steve Jobs, hacking has always been at the foundation of American democracy...Benjamin Franklin...was one of the greatest hackers of all time. He was one of America's most prolific inventors, though he famously never filed a patent, because he thought that all human knowledge should be freely available
He brought us bifocals and the lightning rod, and of course there was his collaboration on the invention of American democracy...He was a tinkerer and a statesman whose conception of citizenship was always predicated on action
He believed that government could be built by the people, and we call those people civic hackers...But before I give you a few examples of what civic hacking looks like, I want to make clear that you don't have to be a programmer to be a civic hacker. You just have to believe that you can bring a 21st-century tool set to bear on the problems that government faces."
In order to try and better explain civc hacking to people who say, 'I read about it, but I just don't get it,' I'm going to ask someone from Code for America to write a short guest post explaining the topic. I'll also do a couple blog posts about how and why specific civic hacks came to be.

If you've got specific questions about civic hacking or about civic hackathons, please send those questions to Bob Waldron at bwaldron [at] gmail (dott) com. I'll answer those questions in future posts.


Sunday, April 19, 2015

The State Of Civic Hacking In Wisconsin

Civic hacking in Wisconsin, outside of Madison and Milwaukee, appears to be very much in the early stages. Probably 99% of the state's residents outside those two metro areas have never heard of civic hacking or don't know what it is. Almost all of the state's citizens are likely to consider 'civic hacking' a criminal activity.

(For more info on what civic hacking is, see my earlier blog post on the topic or watch this TED video.)

Many people in large tech metro areas like San Francisco, Seattle, Boston, and Austin, as well as other areas with less of a tech focus like Washington, DC, Miami and Minneapolis, see real benefits in civic hacking. A small group of people in northeast Wisconsin are working together to bring some of those benefits to our region.

It's predictable that Madison would already be involved in civic hacking because of UW-Madison, the tech companies located in Madison, and the relatively large population of the metro area.

The Isthmus article "Hacking for the common good" gives an overview of civic hacking in Wisconsin's capitol.
"Data is the fuel that's needed to make the civic hacking engine run. To create SMSMyBus, Tracy got the GPS data he needed from Madison Metro's website using a technique called "screen scraping," which involves converting data from web pages into a programmable format...Tracy says that for years, screen scraping was one of the few ways to tackle problems requiring city data. However, that changed in 2012 when Madison passed an open data ordinance and created an open data portal containing datasets from municipal agencies like the police department and assessor's office...When people are given free rein to play with public data, they sometimes create elegant, useful products without eating up government resources. "The recurring theme I hear, no matter [the source], is that city staff is overworked," says Brad Grzesiak, who is CEO at Madison software development shop Bendyworks and has helped organize civic hacking events. The need to access public data touches all levels of government. Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison) says she's planning to introduce a bill that would require all data statewide that's otherwise accessible through an open records request to be electronically accessible and machine-readable. "What I'm really looking to do is spur the creation of applications," Taylor says. "You can't use data that's saved in PDFs or certain other file formats. It needs to be usable so that people can [ask], 'What's the cleanest lake?' or 'What lake has the most of whatever fish you're looking for and what are the best times to fish?' There's a lot of good DNR data in particular that might be very usable for apps." Taylor says citizens would save money if public
documents were more widely available. "You can go get it," she says. "You don't have to do an open records request." Although Madison's city government collects and maintains a treasure trove of data, very little of it is available through the city's open data portal. To date, it contains just 103 datasets, although this number continues to grow..."
Here are some civic hacking websites related to Madison:

It's also predictable that Milwaukee would have had some involvement in civic hacking by now because of it's large population, multiple large universities, tech companies and support of tech groups by companies and government in Milwaukee. However, a Google search didn't reveal nearly as much sustainable, ongoing civic hacking as you can find in Madison, due likely to the more conservative culture of the Milwaukee metro area.

The two primary 'news' items I found for civic hacking in Milwaukee were:
  • Radio Milwaukee article, "Help Make Milwaukee A Better City By Hacking It This Weekend," covers activities planned for the National Day of Civic Hacking 2014 event in Milwaukee. "Beginning on Saturday, Milwaukee Data Initiative will be hosting a Milwaukee Civic Hackathon. The hackathon will be held May 31 and June 1 at Bucketworks inside the Grand Avenue Mall. Participants will include City of Milwaukee Chief Information Officer, representatives from various Milwaukee County and City departments, Local experts on MCTS transit data, UWM App Brewery Founder and others. Some of the projects that the hackathon will work on include: MCTS API Bus Apps and Hardware Hack (with the new MCTS API), Residential Service Data App (listing resources for homeowners in Milwaukee), Adopt-A-Hydrant Milwaukee App (Open Source project to monitor fire hydrants), US Open City Census (cataloging our open data assets in Milwaukee)." 
  • The "MDI: Intro to Civic Hacking" meetup, scheduled for June 6, 2013, had 29 people registered to attend and was described this way: "Combining forces with Milwaukee Tech Engine and Python MKE, MDI is proud to present our first class: Intro to Civic Hacking. This will be an intro to civic hacking (the legal kind) with Python, led by our own @version2beta! This is for the novice or beginner coder, and for novice to intermediate civic
    hackers...These meetups are a chance to showcase how people and organizations are using and producing data in interesting or innovative ways...Anyone can attend (designers, front-end developers, back-end developers, mobile developers, idea folks, social media people)
People in Milwaukee are likely doing civic hacking in 2015, but those activities weren't easily found with a Google web search. The primary Milwaukee open data website appears to be Milwaukee Data Initiative, although I did find a couple Milwaukee civic hack repositories on GitHub.

Here are a few 'open data' webpages for different parts of Wisconsin found via Google searches:
The scarcity of discoverable civic hacking and open government data to-date in Wisconsin means these are (can be?) emerging issues, with much more activity to be seen in the future. It's likely that civic hackers in Wisconsin are in stealth mode and mostly in the early stages of civic hacking, other than a few people like Greg Tracy, Erik Paulson, Scott Resnick, and Paul Kronberger, all in Madison. The Madison activity on this topic and lack of activity outside Madison is because:
  • Open government data and civic hacking are driven by people involved in open source software, people doing tech startups, and people connected with or reading about the tech culture on west or east US coasts
  • Excepting Madison, Wisconsin has a conservative Midwest culture, relatively low level of general population involvement with high tech industry or open source software, lack of critical mass in state or regional tech communities, lack of well-connected regional tech communities, few highly successful tech startup founders, and minimal financial support for tech community by companies and city, regional or state governments.
  • Excepting Madison, there has not been a sustained grassroots effort in Wisconsin to connect and expand the community of civic hackers.
As mentioned before, credible people and organizations see value in civic hacking. One simple example from the US Chamber of Commerce of the value in hacking open data is the Weather Channel, a business built using open government data from the US Department of Commerce. In a Government Technology article Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker said, "Unleashing the full force of our data will be a source of innovation, a cornerstone of economic opportunity for
businesses and entrepreneurs, and a foundation for greater prosperity for millions of families." The US White House endorsed civic hacks and the National Day of Civic Hacking in a White House blog post.

Benefits to northeast Wisconsin civic hackers and their communities to be gotten from connecting and collaborating on open data and open government are:
  • People new to the topic learn civic hacking skills from more experienced civic hackers
  • People learn about new civic hacks they can customize for use in their communities
  • Opportunities to improve our local, regional, state or federal 'communities', making life better for the civic hackers and for their fellow citizens
  • Future in-person collaboration on open source civic data apps or on new startups
Benefits of northeast Wisconsin residents connecting with Wisconsin civic hackers from outside our region:
  • People learn about new civic hacks from outside northeast Wisconsin that they can customize for use in our region
  • Northeast Wisconsin civic hackers can learn from people more experienced in the subject, especially those in Madison.
  • More incentive to work on civic hacks of state of Wisconsin open data
Benefits of connecting northeast Wisconsin with civic hackers outside our state:
  • Learn civic hacking skills from far more experienced civic hackers, especially ones from the west or east coasts
  • Learn about non-Wisconsin civic hacks we can fork for use in Wisconsin
  • Build relationships with other Midwest civic hackers for potential future in-person collaboration
  • Potential future remote collaboration with people outside the Midwest and outside the US
I'm not sure what I'll write about for tomorrow's civic hacking post.

If you're not sure if you want to be a civic hacker, read more about it on this blog, research the topic online with your search friend, Google, then register for the June 6th "DHMN Civic Hackathon/Appleton 2015."