Saturday, June 27, 2015

Civic Hacking In The News: June 27, 2015

Here's your June 27 update on recent news about civic hacking. This Saturday’s news includes a variety of topics that could be leveraged by NE Wisconsin civic hackers or might inspire them to launch a related-but-different project. For complete details on any of the items, click the headline link and read the article in its entirety.

This civic hacker and cofounder just moved to Philly from Wisconsin
"...So, you came from Madison? What brought you here?...My fiancé just started pediatric residency at CHOP. That was the motivation to move to Philly... 
Were you scoping out the tech scene when you visited? Not really, but I started to after we found out we were moving here. That was at the end of March. I started by just following everyone and everything Philly I could find on Twitter. Generally I was pretty impressed with the coverage. It was pretty easy to get a sense of what was going on and all the different people and organizations who were driving the tech scene here. 
What were you doing in Madison? Were you involved in the scene over there?...I was very involved in the tech scene in Madison. I am also co-owner of a coworking space there and helped organize many different events, meetups and entrepreneurial events...One thing I also worked a lot on was civic hacking. I helped organize a meetup in Madison and would create my own APIs to city data before the city passed an open data ordinance a couple years ago...Greg Tracy built the API for the bus arrival data. Greg’s API was really the starting point. A few years ago he built a simple app that scraped but data and sent a text message called SMSMyBus. Once he added an API it really paved the way for others, including myself, to use the data. Right before I left I had started working on building an API for library data since I was getting frustrated not having access as a developer... 
Wait, so, a lot of the data you were using in Madison just didn’t have APIs? When we started, there were none. Bus data was posted in html to a website that updated every few minutes. Madison did pass an open data law, partially because of our work, but we are still waiting for a lot of stuff to make it online. It is better now but a few years ago, it was just writing screen scraping code to generate developer friendly APIs. I wrote code that scraped fire reports, police reports, property ownership records..."
This post has several lessons for civic hackers and the TIME community (Tech, Innovators, Makers, Entrepreneurs) in NE Wisconsin. One of them is that for civic hackers and TIME community members to be visible and easily discoverable to like-minded people who move into the area, or who are interested in knowing what's happening in NE Wisconsin, we need to have at least a few people active on Twitter and other websites or web services that those like-minded people use or look at frequently. Another lesson is that, just as Madison was in some ways significantly 'behind' Philadelphia in civic hacking maturity, so our region is significantly behind Madison. We're still at the stage where most of the data we want to use for civic hacking needs to be scraped and APIs need to be written. A third point to consider is that Madison's civic hacking online presence and organized activity seems somewhat static at the moment, with few updates and new projects being launched. In a community which doesn't have a critical mass of civic hackers, there needs to be intentional focus on having several active community organizers and promoters. Having several people actively promoting, organizing and starting new projects allows the community to continue growing and improving. That lessens the impact of one or a couple of the visible members of the community moving away or getting absorbed in a new focus for their life.

3 models for civic hackers: green field, cloned, augmentation
“...Augmentation is the new shiny object—the idea that a government agency is the maintainer of a project for civic hackers to contribute to...Augmented projects...Vetted and supported projects that are currently being worked on by a city, county, or state agency where civic hackers can support development activity, provide user feedback, increase adoption, and assist in testing by augmenting a sponsored project...While there is a lot of preparation needed in order to make this successful for a hackathon event or a recurring civic hacking night, that investment by the agency will pay off with quality code commitments and feedback. The preparation might involve creating a repository, writing good documentation, maintaining a backlog, and reviewing project submissions...The agency benefits from a fresh perspective of the problem and accelerated development. Many government IT shops are facing smaller budgets, more projects, and may even lack some of the skill-sets needed to implement the projects they want to work on. By reaching out to communities, government IT can augment their staff with passionate technologists who want to help advance the mission. For the civic hackers, it's a short-term commitment. The idea is that they can show up to a hackathon or hack night, grab a few tasks from the backlog, and submit their code for review. They're able to contribute to a project without having to maintain or deploy the solution...”
Stage 1 in the growth of a regional civic hacking community is 'greenfield' hacking. There doesn't need to be an organized or connected community of civic hackers for this stage to happen. All that's needed is for one lone coder or hacker to have the drive to build a civic hack. Mike Putnam did that in NE Wisconsin. Stage 2 is 'cloning,' when the lone hackers begin to connect and someone decides they'd rather leverage what people in another city or region have created. So they fork the code or the project idea, and build a localized version that they feel is useful and appropriate to their region or city. The article above suggests that Stage 3 in the maturing civic hacking community is 'augmentation.' Stage 3 appears when there is a recognizably-connected civic hacking community AND a recognition by a city (or several cities in a region) that civic hacking, open data, and DIY urbanism of engaged citizens are valuable resources that cities and counties should support and encourage. Stage 3 MUST be endorsed and driven by the government organizations because they need to (a) prepare data and other resources needed for the civic hack, (b) 'host' and support the existing version of the civic hack, and (c) commit to maintain and upgrade the civic hack in the future until the civic hack no longer is felt to be valuable. This requires a different mindset for the city from Stages 1 and 2. In the first two stages, civic hackers can do the bulk of civic hack design, data manipulation, hosting and maintenance of the civic hack.

Princeton upside to hacking
Princeton Civic Hackathon
“...Code for Princeton is determined to prove that hacking has its upside. The fledgling unit partnered with the Princeton Public Library and the municipality earlier this month to sponsor its first hackathon, designed to build solutions for the community by using publicly released data and new technology. Participants, more than 100 strong, spent a Saturday morning into Sunday afternoon tackling such diverse projects as tracking voting results on a map, creating an app toward improving the bicycling experience for Princeton-area residents, and establishing a webpage giving users access to the health scores of local restaurants...The event drew technology developers, graphic designers, writers and just plain folks with an investment in fostering a more welcoming, more sustainable civic environment. Also on board were students from Montgomery Upper Middle School, who worked on an app allowing people to easily adopt pets from Princeton's SAVE animal shelters, sign up to volunteer and determine the best use of donor funding...”
Princeton's National Day of Civic Hacking 2015 event is an inspiring example of the first civic hackathon for a city or region. They had more than 100 people participate in the activities, and it sounds like they've made a great start on connecting like-minded people in that city. We need to talk with the Princeton organizers about how they attracted so many participants to their first event and apply their strategies where it makes sense for NE Wisconsin. Libraries and schools are two factors we might begin with. The city's library sounds like a key partner for launching civic hacking in Princeton, and we can use Princeton's library involvement to augment the ideas discussed in "Libraries And Civic Hacking." Princeton also appears to have had significant involved of middle school students. A post is being planned for next week on this blog discussing the opportunities for civic hacking in the arena of schools and education.

City of Philadelphia Releases Open Data on Parking Violations
The City of Philadelphia released data about parking violations on the City's open data portal. The data includes citation information for 4.8 million parking tickets issued between January 2012 and March 2015 by the Philadelphia Parking Authority, the Philadelphia Police Department, SEPTA Police, and other issuing agencies. "We are proud to reinforce our commitment to transparency and open government by publishing parking violation data online," said Mayor Michael A. Nutter. "This release joins a growing list of more than 170 open data sets that help inform citizens and strengthen trust in government." In addition to being available for download, the data is provided in a powerful new visualization tool enabling users to easily browse, filter, and drill down into the data within their web browser.”
Parking violations might be a high-interest, non-threatening topic to help get widespread familiarity with the concept of civic hacking. A majority of people do not want to get parking tickets and are curious about how many tickets are given to their fellow citizens, what areas of the city get the most tickets, and other aspects of parking violations. Geeks interested in 'big data' could have a whole lot of fun playing with data for thousands or millions of parking tickets. Visualization and interpretation of this data might lead to changes or improvements in a city's parking policies.

Police Data: What Do People Want?
Where does distrust between police and the community begin, and how might we repair it?...After spending time in Vallejo and riding alongside Vallejo police officers, we started to notice some patterns that might contribute to the fragmented trust between both parties. One big suspect: lack of information. Police told us that they feel “misunderstood” and unable to fulfill unrealistic expectations during their daily policing...After speaking with people living in Vallejo, we learned that many feel confused by the criminal justice system. They wonder where to go for what, what is and is not allowed, and what to expect during and after their interactions with police. So we wondered, if the community had more information, what kinds of information would they find useful or interesting? 
As a completely hypothetical exercise, we collected different types of information that might interest people and asked them to prioritize it. We took inventory of all of the traditional categories of information released to the public, such as number of crimes, arrests, and traffic stops in the last year, and put them on individual index cards...We made it clear that cards selected were not necessarily a promise of what information we would make publicly available. The purpose of the sort was to learn why people want certain types of information, and if having that information would be useful in repairing their trust in the police...We highlighted participants’ preferences and noticed that none of their top 10 cards were a perfect match. The information a resident wants really depends on their own goals, experiences, and community...It was an insightful exercise because we saw the types of information people were interested in and the “why” behind their interests or non-interests...This highlighted the need to focus on the problem that certain types of data solve, rather than the data itself. Do people really want to know how many arrests there were in their area, or do they want to ensure that they’re living somewhere safe?...we did learn that everyone was interested in cards particular to the problems they were trying to solve every day...They spoke of being able to have more informed conversations with the police and their communities about what’s going on in the city. Finally, they mentioned the gesture of giving information as a sign of trust and support...”
The primary reason for the above 'police data' post is events of the past six months in Ferguson and other US cities. However, crime data has a long tradition of the modern civic hacking movement, e.g. Like parking tickets, citizen interest in data related to crime and police activity might be a great way to raise the visibility of civic hacking in NE Wisconsin. Crime data will be more controversial to obtain than parking ticket data. It might also be more challenging to hack in a way that is both interesting and fairly addresses sensitive issues. But the long term benefits would seem to outweigh the short term discomfort this civic hacking causes and the effort needed to obtain the crime-related data. This post also takes an instructive look at one process to figure out what information people want. This process could inform many areas of civic hacking, not just police data.

Accela Construct App Challenge 2015
$22,000 in prizes and a trip to Los Angeles are up for grabs by building an app for the second annual Accela Construct App Challenge! Got an idea for an app that opens up government data and makes it available to citizens? Want to build a tool for people and businesses to interact more easily with their local and state governments? Have a solution that compliments the Accela Civic Platform? Then hurry and submit a short video and some prototype screens that pitch your genius concept to our esteemed judges. You could win up to $10,000 in support of building your app and a stipend to attend Accela Engage 2015 in Los Angeles to share your app idea...”
This one is more of an announcement than a news item, but it’s included in today’s post for these reasons:

  • When I recently found this civic hack challenge, only 12 people were entered to compete for a $10K first prize.
  • The Accela challenge is a good opportunity for NE Wisconsin civic hackers to get experience in a civic hack competition.
  • I would like to do a NE Wisconsin challenge like the New York one described last week in "Civic Hacking In The News: June 20, 2015."


No comments:

Post a Comment