Monday, May 18, 2015

Adopt-A-Hydrant: Civic Hack For Appleton?

In yesterday's post, Mike Putnam told you about AppletonAPI, Appleton's first civic hack. Today's post will give you a look at Adopt-A-Hydrant, a civic hack that "dozens of other cities" have adapted to their cities.

Adopt-A-Hydrant was originally created by a civic hacker in Boston. The GovLab Wiki explains the hack this way:
"Launched in January 2012, Adopt-a-Hydrant is a map-based web app that allows citizens to claim responsibility for shoveling a fire hydrant after a snowstorm. The project was developed by a Code for America fellow working in the Boston Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics in partnership with the Boston Fire Department. It was created in response to firefighters having difficulties quickly accessing, and using, a fire hydrant buried under snow...the municipality does not have the resources to check and shovel every hydrant between one heavy snowfall and the next. The Adopt-a-Hydrant program allows residents to go to a website, enter an address, and choose a hydrant to shovel from their specified geographic area. To motivate residents to volunteer, the program incorporates game dynamics like having the option to name your hydrant, and “steal” ownership of a hydrant if the shoveling is not done. The primary objective of Adopt-a-Hydrant is to engage citizen volunteers to help government clear buried hydrants that cause delays for fire fighters. In addition, the stated goal of the City of Boston is to use the program as a pilot for adopting other streetscape features. The Adopt-a-Hydrant has spread to dozens of other cities including Chicago, Syracuse, Anchorage, and Providence. The code for the program is public, and is being used by cities to meet other critical needs. For example, Honolulu had citizens adopt tsunami warning sirens to make sure they are working, and Seattle implemented the program for residents to adopt storm drains." also has an article about the creation of Adopt-A-Hydrant if you want to know a little more about it.

Because Adopt-A-Hydrant is open source and is available on GitHub, it's easy to copy (fork) and customize for the city of Appleton (or any other NE Wisconsin city). All that's needed is for an interested coder who's familiar with GitHub (or who becomes familiar) to fork the code from either the Code for America repository or from another repository that may already have features of interest to that coder. Maybe the Madison version looks cool, maybe you like the Minneapolis Adopt-A-Tree concept, or maybe the Oakland Adopt-A-Drain version with storm drain features is a more appropriate starting point for Appleton's version of the hack.

Forking the Adopt-A-Hydrant code to the DHMN Civic Hacks GitHub account will help build the NE Wisconsin community of civic hackers, but if the coder forking this civic hack wants to store it elsewhere on GitHub, that's OK too.

Adopt-A-Hydrant shows the value of the open source approach to civic hacking. Because the code is open source, it can be copied and used for free. No cost to the city of Appleton or to any other cities using it. No increase in the city budget for future years. But even better, civic hackers are 'free' to change and customize the code as needed to make Adopt-A-Hydrant most useful for their own city. If the code for Adopt-A-Hydrant was proprietary, like the code for Microsoft Windows, Microsoft Word or Esri GIS mapping programs, rather than open source, coders would not be free to change the source code. They wouldn't even be able to see or get the source code, so they wouldn't be able to customize it for their own city. Open source civic hacks empower engaged citizens to take responsibility for making their city, county, state or country a better place. Open source lets them "bring a 21st-century tool set to bear on the problems that government faces."

Proprietary code has economic benefits, and it will probably always be a major part of computing and the tech world. But open source code also has great value, and open source allows civic-minded hackers to help make their city, county, state or country a better place at no cost to the government unit to which the hack applies.

If a city decides that an open source civic hack has significant value to the city and wants to modify it in some way or just wants to make it's own 'official' version of the code so they can control it, they can do that as long as they follow all the terms of the open source license for that code. That generally means they have to make their official version of the code also open source and available for anyone else to copy. By having an official version of a civic hack, the city can secure the code so other people can't maliciously or unintentionally change how the hack looks or works, but the city also has to then spend money to host the code on a server if they don't want to use a free GitHub account, to make any changes so their official version looks official, and to make improvements to the code in the future.

Adopt-A-Hydrant is a robust and complex civic hack with demonstrated value. It would probably be a good civic hack for a coder or team of civic hackers to work on during the DHMN Civic Hackathon/Appleton 2015 on June 6, 2015. It would (probably) take more than one day to develop a shiny version of Adopt-A-Hydrant (with Android and iOS smartphone apps) that the city of Appleton would want show off the next time they go to a National League of Cities conference. But we can definitely fork the code and get started on making the Appleton version of it during the hackathon.

If working on Adopt-A-Hydrant sounds like something you want to do, REGISTER TODAY for the DHMN Civic Hackathon/Appleton 2015.

Then check the DHMN Civic Hacks GitHub webpage to see if Adopt-A-Code has been forked there yet. And do some poking around in different versions of the hack to see what's needed to customize it for Appleton. This Code for America GitHub page gives a few pointers for localizing the hack. Also check on GitHub and other places for ideas or tips on refactoring Adopt-A-Hydrant or civic hacks in general. Then show up on June 6, maybe join / form an Adopt-A-Hydrant hacking team, and have fun!!


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