Monday, May 25, 2015

DHMN Civic Hackathon/Appleton 2015: Top 10 Hacks

So what civic hacks could be created or improved on June 6, 2015, at the DHMN Civic Hackathon/Appleton 2015??

There are hundreds or thousands of interesting and worthwhile projects hackathon participants can work on, depending on their skills, knowledge and interests and the type of project. I don't know what people will be interested in working on, and for many of the participants, I have no idea what skills and knowledge they'll bring to the event.

But I have learned a little bit about civic hacking over the past few years, and I do know some of the people who will spend at least a couple hours on June 6 working to make some aspect of their city, county, state or national government-related experience better. So I'll make a few recommendations for people to consider working on.

If any of these recommendations catch your interest, Google them and learn more. Or send me, Bob Waldron, an email at bwaldron (at) gmail [dott] com. I'll answer any questions I can and send you more info about the hack(s) you're interested in.

My top 10 recommendations for civic hackers to consider forming a team around and working on at the June 6 hackathon are:

(1)  AppletonAPI
AppletonAPI Phase 1, Garbage Day Reminder
  • This is the first civic hack created for northeast Wisconsin and for Appleton.
  • The person who created this hack, Mike Putnam, will be participating in the hackathon.
  • AppletonAPI is currently a relatively simple hack, but worthwhile and interesting improvements can be made to it in the future
  • Mike has an Android app partially developed for the hack; it would be great to have a beta smartphone app done by June 7.
  • After the hackathon starts, Mike will likely explain or pitch his hack to hackathon participants who might consider working on it with him.
  • For more info on this hack, see Mike's blog post, "AppletonAPI: Appleton & NE Wisconsin's First Civic Hack".
(2)  Adopt-A-Hydrant
  • Adopt-A-Hydrant is a robust and proven civic hack that's been successful and used in many communities.
  • Its source code is on GitHub so it can be easily forked (customized) for Appleton or other northeast Wisconsin cities.
  • There are lots of resources (online info and people) to help a hack team as they work on Adopt-A-Hydrant.
  • This hack platform can and has been customized for items other than fire hydrants, such as storm drains, trees, and tsunami sirens.
  • If civic hack teams form for AppletonAPI and Appleton Adopt-A-Hydrant at the hackathon and make decent progress during the event, that will be an excellent base for continued civic hacking in Appleton and a good starting point for civic hacking activities in other northeast Wisconsin cities.
  • For more info, see the blog post about Adopt-A-Hydrant.
(3)  Civic Hack for Better Voting
  • One of the people who will participate in the hackathon said he's interested in working on a voting hack.
  • There are lots of existing civic hacks related to voting, so we should be able to either customize another hack for Appleton, or at least be able to use code from the other hacks or learn from the way they're built.
  • Creating or adapting a smartphone app that results in a better voting experience seems like a fantastic way to use 21st century technology to improve a classic part of an American's interaction with their government.
  • There should be a high level of interest and willingness from the city of Appleton and from other relevant government organizations to develop open data sets that enable a better voting experience.
  • The League of Women Voters and other local, regional or national organizations are likely to be highly suppportive of a civic hack for better voting. It might even be possible to get a grant to cover costs of improving this type of app.
  • Some civic hacks would be used by very few people, but a voting app will be useful for every voter who has a smartphone.
  • For more thought on this topic, see the post, "Part 1: Civic Hacks For Better Voting."
(4)  Civic Hack Using Appleton GIS Esri Open Data Set
  • The first civic hackathon in Appleton really should have at least one civic hacker working with open data from the city of Appleton. Since the only open data sets the city of Appleton has are Esri GIS files, one or several hackathon participants should work with Heath Anderson, the city's GIS rep at the event, to create some type of civic hack using one of those files.
  • The Esri GIS files can be found at
  • If interested in this type of a civic hack, read "GIS Guide for Honolulu / Appleton Civic Hackers" and "Esri: GIS, Civic Hacking & Open Data Initiative."
  • If reeeeally interested in a civic hack which uses an Appleton Ersi GIS data set, call the Esri regional office in St. Paul, MN, at 651-454-0600, ask for the regional manager, and ask them to send an Esri rep to the hackathon to help your hack team.
(5)  OpenStreetMap Project
OpenStreetMap downtown Appleton
  • Many civic hacks use OpenStreetMap (OSM), so we can use those as a starting point (fork someone else's hack from GitHub) or a learning reference.
  • An OSM hack is something non-coders can enjoy working on. They might also enjoy using OSM for personal projects that have nothing to do with civic hacking, so people working on this could benefit in multiple ways.
  • After northeast Wisconsin civic hackers learn how to use OSM for one hack, they'll be able to use that knowledge on many future civic hacks and be able to show others how to hack OSM.
  • There are a ton of resources on the web related to working with OSM.
  • If interested in an OSM project, check out the Mapping America challenge and the Introduction to OpenStreetMap challenge from Code for America as part of the National Day of Civic Hacking.
  • For more ideas re hacking OSM, see "Part 1: OpenStreetMap And Civic Hacking," "Part 2: OpenStreetMap and Civic Hacking" and "Civic Hacking: Web Mapping Overview."
(6)  Little Free Library
  • Many people who have never heard of civic hacking know what a Little Free Library is.
  • There are already a bunch of Little Free Libraries around Appleton and around other parts of northeast Wisconsin.
  • Madison already worked on a Little Free Library hack and put it on GitHub. Mike Putnam forked the Madison code, and you can see that on the DHMN Civic Hacks GitHub webpage.
  • Working on a Little Free Library hack may inspire more Appleton residents to put up a Little Free Library.
  • Appleton could develop a physical hack (something for non-coders to work on) using 21st century tools (like 3D printing or CNC mills or microcontrollers and wireless networking) to create new types of Little Free Libraries.
  • The Little Free Library is itself a civic hack.
  • The Little Free Library concept is a Wisconsin idea.
  • If you want to work on this one, look at what Madison has done for Shareabouts / Little Free Library and figure out how to leverage their work for a Little Free Library hack in Appleton.
(7)  Health Inspection Reports App
  • The purpose of this hack is to let you look at Health Department inspection reports for restaurants.
  • This NPR article, "Did That Restaurant Pass Its Health Inspection?" talks about integration of health inspection results into Yelp in a few cities in the US.
  • The Hampton Roads, VA civic hacking webpage has hacks for an Open Health Inspection API and an Open Health Inspection App.
  • I think health inspections reports are available from the Appleton Health Department and the Outagamie County Public Health Division.
  • I think there would be a lot of interest from the general public in this civic hack, but I don't know how much progress a team will be able to make on it during the hackathon.
  • This is a hack that's most worthwhile if civic hackers form a team with the commitment to continue working together on the hack after June 6.
(8)  Open Water or Open Air Project
  • I'm including this one on the top 10 list because I'm interested in citizen science, and I like clean air and clean water.
  • These are established projects, so hackathon participants can research them online and decide if it's a topic of interest.
  • If one or several people are interested enough in a citizen science project to work on it before the hackathon, they can acquire the hardware parts needed to build sensors during the hackathon to monitor the air or water.
  • June is a perfect time of the year to start working on this. A team would have all summer to get outdoors and get a great start on this hack.
  • If you like the sounds of a citizen science project, whether it's Open Water, Open Air or a different one, read "Part 1 Citizen Science + Civic Hacking: Overview," "Part 2 Citizen Science + Civic Hacking: Fifteen Projects" and "Part 3 Citizen Science + Civic Hacking: Clean Water & Clean Air."
(9)  Visualizing Nutrients: National Challenge Hack
  • The national challenges are an official part of the National Day of Civic Hacking (NDoCH) that other people around the US will also be working on. It would be fun to see what Appleton comes up with and to see what civic hackers in other cities develop for the same challenge.
  • If you want to work on a hack with definite guidelines rather than having no been given no directions and a totally clean slate, a national challenge might be your cup of tea.
  • I'm suggesting Appleton civic hackers consider the Visualizing Nutrients Challenge because it's well organized, it will be worked on by lots of people around the country, it would tie in well with the Open Water citizen science hack, and it's applicable to most Americans.
  • If Visualizing Nutrients isn't something of interest to you, there are a whole bunch of other challenges to choose from, with most of them listed on the NDoCH challenge webpage.
  • This would be an excellent civic hack for a coder who enjoys working with big data.
  • For more info about national challenge civic hacks, read "June 6th Challenges For Civic Hackers" and "Hack Challenges: National Day of Civic Hacking 2015."
(10)  Guerrilla Civic Hack
  • There was a lot of interest in the guerrilla civic hack concept based on how many people read the "Are They Right To Stop Guerrilla Street Repairs?" post on this blog.
  • We'll do at least one more blog post about guerrilla civic hacking before the hackathon, but if you like the concept of guerrilla civic hacking, recruit one or more fellow guerrillas to register for the DHMN Civic Hackathon/Appleton 2015, and connect with other guerrilla civic hackers at the event. I'm sure a team of pothole activists, DIY urban designers or urban repair squads can come up with a fun project that will benefit the citizens of northeast Wisconsin.
  • This type of civic hack may be more enjoyable for someone who enjoys working with their hands and seeing something at the end of the day that they can touch and watch others get benefit from it.
  • A guerrilla civic hack would probably make a much more interesting video than a civic hack where most of the work consists of thinking hard, discussing ideas with the hack team, and pounding out the code on a laptop.
There they are -- Bob's Top 10 Recommended Civic Hacks for June 6, 2015, and I'm betting that two of them get worked on.

Heath Anderson will likely also write an upcoming blog post for the hacks he thinks would be good for people to consider working on during the hackathon. I'll revise this post with a link to his recommendations when they get published.

I have no idea what hacks will catch people's interests and actually be worked on other than AppletonAPI and a voting hack. Come to the civic hackathon (it's free...) and work on a civic hack that you think is important and worth your time and energy.


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