Saturday, June 20, 2015

Civic Hacking In The News: June 20, 2015

This June 20, 2015, post is five items from recent news about civic hacking. If they sound like something you want to know more about, click the headline links and read them in their entirety.

Introducing WeVote, a new civic tech project powered by the Open States API
Politics are heavily influenced by money belonging to the billionaires and insiders who make up about .05 percent of the American public. And in some cases, a candidate’s chance of success depends on playing the game by their rules...a recent New York Times/CBS Poll shows that four out of five Americans believe money has too much influence over political campaigns. But civic tech can be a great tool to empower greater equity in politics as we know it. My name is Andy Curran, and I am the founder of a new civic tech project called the WeVote to build a new kind of social network — one that is entirely focused on building a bridge between the public and their elected representatives on the state level. This bridge provides both citizens and elected officials with total legislative transparency as well as the communication tools of a social network. On top of this functionality, we have added one very important caveat: In order to contribute to the body of knowledge on WeVote, a citizen user must validate their status as a real registered voter.”

WeVote currently has a funding campaign on Kickstarter (only asking for $25,000 and about a month to go as of June 20). Click here to see it on Kickstarter and consider pledging to the campaign. WeVote is an attempt to give elected officials a balanced view of what their constituent registered voters opinions are on issues and legislation by giving those voters a new way to be heard.

We should demand more from "open" than just data: International Open Data Conference
“...the Canadian government, International Development Research Centre, World Bank and the Open Data for Development Network hosted almost 2,000 people for the 3rd International Open Data Conference (IODC) in Ottawa...We are often asked to identify what the impact of government data is on improving the lives of ordinary citizens — and this question certainly came up a thousand times during IODC as well. On Friday morning, for instance, during the main plenary, everyone seemed to be in agreement that the purpose of releasing government data is to ultimately benefit the user — usually the audience member poignantly stood up and asked: “So, why are there no users on this panel?”...Worse, sometimes these divisions don’t only exist between those who create the tools and the audience they’re trying to target, but also within the community itself...Civic hackers and policy advocates sometimes aren’t in the same conversations and there seem to be very few initiatives that attempt to marry the interests of policy and tech...The increased growth of the international open data conference from a hundred people gathering...three years ago to a week-long conference with almost 2,000 people is evidence of this. However, we still haven’t gotten to the core of how we can use data to shake unjust power structures and make governments more effective and accountable...”
This article illustrates two points; (1) The concept of open data from governments is an emerging, but fast growing trend, and (2) It will be hard, but necessary, to effectively define and communicate the value and impact of open data from our governments.

Introducing the Civic Tech and Data Collaborative
Every day, city residents navigate a maze of systems to complete basic tasks like accessing government services or paying traffic tickets. These tasks, inconvenient for everyone, can be so numerous, burdensome and time-consuming for lower-income people that they can amount to a job unto themselves...recent events in Baltimore and around the country highlight how, at their worst, these systems contribute to, compound, and undergird pervasive inequities that have destructive and devastating consequences in people’s lives….Urban Institute, through its National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership, supports a community-driven movement to generate, open and use the explosion of data in cities to support evidence-based policy. Civically minded technologists, organized through the Code for America volunteer Brigade, have developed groundbreaking tools that make working with government simpler, and have inspired millions to reimagine a government for and by the people in the 21st century. And a growing movement to reinvent local government from the inside and out has found support from Living Cities and a growing corpus of allies...”
The Civic Tech and Data Collaborative is focused on Boston and St. Louis, but as with most civic hacks, cities in NE Wisconsin should be able to benefit from the ideas developed elsewhere.

7 awesome projects from this year’s National Day of Civic Hacking
June 6 was the National Day of Civic Hacking, a nationwide initiative that encourages anyone to build solutions for their communities...Here, takes a look at who created what throughout the country...California’s Health Data Code-A-Thon in Sacramento: Using data from the California Health and Human Services Agency’s Open Data Portal, 15 groups presented projects to help consumers and policymakers make more informed decisions about health at personal and community scales...In Chicago, hackers convened to overcome legal obstacles. Organized by the Chicago Legal Innovation Group, openlegal and the Michigan State University College of Law, more than 30 participants developed 13 projects to solve eight challenges posed by legal organizations...Open Pittsburgh’s #hackforchange: In collaboration with Maptime Pittsburgh, this six-month-old Code for America brigade got around 30 people together to explore the possibilities of data and digital mapping...Matt Bjornson pulled together Minnesota’s Hack for Change. Around 45 people showed up to brainstorm projects focused on the Minneapolis homeless population, metro mobility and accessibility, crime and disciplinary data trends in high school students….While many NDOCH events spanned the weekend, the hard workers at Code for KC went above and beyond. They’re still developing tools — until November. The end date ensures the projects will actually get done. Code for KC will continue to support each team, and in July, participants will reconvene to see each other’s progress...Perhaps one of the biggest NDOCH events, Hack for L.A. also sought out to solve some of the state’s biggest issues. Challenges included ways to solve water issues, directing new immigrants toward resources and addressing health issues such as encouraging active transportation, childhood obesity and asthma...Fishackathon: An event in its own right, GreenWave and the U.S. Department of State teamed up to host Fishackathons in 12 cities across the world, including Jakarta, Indonesia, Santiago, Chile and Toronto...”
This post has lots of good ideas to inspire civic hackers in our region. Maybe inspiring enough to get forty or fifty more people in NE Wisconsin to try their hand at civic hacking...

Winners announced in 2015 AT&T Tech Valley Civic App Challenge
Aimed to connect and engage citizens with government and demonstrate how mobile technologies can lead to the next generation of tech jobs and investment, the 2015 AT&T Tech Valley Civic App Challenge was a partnership between AT&T and area universities, businesses and technology organizations...The winners of the two-month “virtual hackathon” were chosen from more than 25 entries and more than 120 participants. Six were chosen based on the apps’ potential impact on Tech Valley, execution and creativity or novelty. Cash prizes totaled more than $18,000. The grand prize of $10,000 went to Food Pantry Helper...This mobile web app assists non-for-profit food pantries in managing their operations more efficiently and cost effectively to better serve the community’s most needy. It includes services such as client, inventory, grant, volunteer and donor tracking. In addition, the app reduces the need for paper, provides real-time data and reporting to management and compliance oversight entities, and provides an overall structure for a food pantry operation...Second place went to an app called Electorate...a social voting app...The third place prize was presented to Snapmap...a mobile web app that helps New York state families get the most out of their SNAP benefits, the USDA’s supplemental nutrition assistance program designed to ensure that all Americans, regardless of income level, can purchase and consume healthy food on a regular basis...”
It would be interesting to see how many hackathon participants we’d get in this region if we had a civic hack challenge with some type of prize. It would be nice to have a couple cash prizes for hacks that were worked on for the two months prior to the date of the hackathon, but I don't recommend cash prizes for one-day hacks developed on the day of the event. There should also be some kind of non-cash prizes for work done between the start and the end of the hackathon, with those prizes and competition rules designed to promote collaboration, rather than focus on who wrote the most code or generated the most ‘Likes’ on their social media campaign to promote the hack.

I'll reach out to AT&T to discuss the possibility of them sponsoring a civic hack competition in NE Wisconsin. Will keep you updated on that...


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