Saturday, May 9, 2015

Civic Hacking In The News: May 9, 2015

Here's your May 9 update on somewhat-recent news about civic hacking.

Civic Data Journalism

In the May 2015 blog post "Data journalism at the 2015 UK General Election: geeks bearing gifts," author and professor Paul Bradshaw takes a look at how civic hackers, civic data journalism and civic hacks such as voting advice applications (VAA) impacted the recent British elections. For people who will be closely watching the US 2016 elections or working to get their candidate or the best candidate elected, this post is a worthwhile read.
"Looking back at my review of online election reporting in 2010 it’s striking how much has changed. Back then data journalism’s contribution was all about interactive presentation of results, but little else. In the time between that election and this one, however, two things have changed within the news industry: firstly, a more code-literate workforce, including dedicated data project teams; and secondly, the rise of mobile, social media-driven consumption and, as part of that, visual journalism. The most noticeable result of this in 2015 has been the visible influence of the ‘civic tech‘ movement pioneered by MySociety...Civic tech in 2015 has been particularly facilitated by the Democracy Club, a mailing list for: “volunteers that aims to increase the quantity, quality and accessibility of information on election candidates, politicians and democratic processes through digital tools, microvolunteering and collaboration with like-minded organisations.” Members of the list have created a raft of Voting Advice Applications (VAAs) such as Who Should You Vote For?,, and WhoGetsMyVoteUK. Vote for Policies is typical of these in offering to help you “Compare policies from each party in their own words, and make an informed decision about who to vote for” while Who Shall I Vote For is a “quick, interactive and insightful quiz” to “Discover whose policies match your personality”. Matthew Smith, creator of the VAA Fantasy Frontbench, believes the 2015 election campaign has been  “the first where Voting Advice Applications (VAAs) have reached a level of maturity where their use can no longer be said to be insignificant.” News organisations, traditionally editorially driven, began in 2015 to adopt the practices of ‘civic programming’ in their output...An increasing number of organisations outside of traditional media took up the role of holding power to account. These included academics contributing to The Conversation, the Media Standards Trust‘s Election Unspun, and FullFact, which crowdfunded over £30,000 to support its activities."
The VAAs sound intriguing. I hope a few civic activists interested in getting out the vote and informing the voters about the candidate show up for the June 6 civic hackathon in Appleton. Maybe we can get a few coders from the League of Women Voters. They appear to have an office very near to Lawrence University, which is where the hackathon will take place. I'll have to give them a call on Tuesday to invite them to participate in the "DHMN Civic Hackathon/Appleton 2015." The LWV
probably already has a VAA; if they do, we can make sure it applicable to Appleton area voters. It's also impressive that FullFact crowdfunded almost $50,000 to document when politicians and their campaign teams are stretching the truth or blatantly prevaricating.

It's too bad we can't get Paul Bradshaw to participate in our June 6 civic hackathon. He's written an ebook, "Scraping for Journalists." It would likely be a good book for journalists or budding journalist civic hackers at the Appleton Post Crescent, at Lawrence University and other area colleges, and at Fox Valley high schools. We could have a whole group of people at the hackathon working on scraping public data from websites.

This article also led me to the interactive graphics website from the Knight Foundation showing trends in civic tech.

Omaha Appoints Civic Hacker To Lead New Digital Library

Do Space artist's conception
The article "Rebecca Stavick, Omaha’s First Digital Librarian" started me thinking about how cool it would be if a group of influential and philanthropic people in Appleton decided they wanted to establish the Appleton Digital Library, similar to the one in Omaha. The Omaha Digital Library was made possible by visionary, committed and influential people in Omaha. "Heritage Services, which is led by some of Omaha’s biggest names in business and philanthropy, will renovate the building. Private donations will pay for the renovations and for the first four years of the library’s operations." It's pretty impressive that a private group is paying for setting up and operating the digital library for the first four years.

Rebecca Stavick, who will be the first director of Omaha's digital library, was very active in civic hacking prior to being appointed director.
"Rebecca Stavick was appointed executive director of Omaha’s first digital library...The new role is a logical bridge between Stavick’s previous five years as staff development specialist at Omaha Public Library (OPL) and her work as cofounder of Open Nebraska, which she describes as “a citizen-led civic hacking organization dedicated to solving community problems through civic application development, open data advocacy, and tech education.” Do Space, which calls itself “a technology library, a digital workshop, and an innovation playground,” will be administered and operated by Community Information is not part of the library system, although patrons will be able to use their OPL library card to access its resources...Essentially Do Space is a public technology library and an innovation space for everyone in the community, and it’s totally free. The goal is to really empower the community with the guidance and education they need to learn and create using technology. We’re looking at developing
interesting and unique programs to serve everyone, from total beginners who might be
Empty bookstore where Do Space will be created
using a computer for the very first time all the way through more advanced folks who may want to come in and use AutoCAD to design something, or want to use a 3-D printer to prototype the next big thing
Maybe Josh Cowles can create a Fond du Lac proposal like the Do Space and get support from the local business and philanthropic leaders in Fond du Lac to create an awesome 21st century community resource. He's done a fantastic job of organizing and building support for and participation in the tech unconference BarCampFDL, so maybe he could pull off a digital library!

US National Clean Water Initiative Launched For Civic Hackers

The article "USGS, EPA, Blue Legacy launch innovative nutrient awareness challenge" talks about a combination civic hacking and citizen science topic. I'll include a little more regarding this clean water initiative in tomorrow's post about Open Water and Open Air.
"The U.S. Geological Survey, Environmental Protection Agency and Blue Legacy International...have officially announced the Visualizing Nutrients Challenge, an innovation competition focusing on inventive ways to organize and analyze existing data of nutrient levels in water...the contest encourages participants to utilize government data sources to create compelling visualizations that inform citizens, communities and resource managers about conditions of nitrogen and phosphorus in the nation's waters. The goal of Visualizing Nutrients is to help educate and inspire action to address algal blooms, hypoxia and other nutrient-related water quality issues...First Place will receive $10,000, and a People’s Choice Award will receive $5,000...This prize competition is also part of the National Day of Civic Hacking, as well as the broader work of the Challenging Nutrients Coalition. Under the directive of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the coalition was organized with the goal of bringing innovative approaches to the issue of nutrient pollution."
Minneapolis Launches Open Data Website

"City increases transparency with open data portal" talks about the new website where Minneapolis makes its public city data easy for residents to access and develop into useful information.
"...the City of Minneapolis launched its open data portal, a website that provides online access to municipally collected information. People who visit the site ( can see fire and police incidents, 311 calls and crime statistics. Data also show property rental locations and open liquor licenses. Air quality, digital inclusion and neighborhood revitalization are additional areas covered on the site. Rollout of the website is the result of an August vote in which the City Council made Minneapolis the 16th city in the U.S. to pass an open data policy. The intention: Make city information easily accessible for residents to increase transparency and improve quality of life. Before the portal, residents and other people who wanted city data were required to complete a Freedom of Information Act request. Now with constant access to data, people can learn more about where they live by just going online...The City plans to continually add data sets over the coming months and years...Once information is available at the website, tech-savvy individuals can use data to produce consumer-focused resources without worrying about copyright or other restrictions. For instance,
City data provided in chart form might be rendered in an interactive map meant to help residents navigate the city. The open data movement has grown with technological innovation...and open data advocates believe data that is public should be available to everyone."

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