Monday, June 1, 2015

Connecting Communities With Civic Hacking

Today's post is all about connecting communities with civic hacking.

There are (at least) six ways you can interpret the phrase "connecting communities with civic hacking."

  1. Connecting a community to its residents with better use of available data (classic civic hacks).
  2. Connecting people with their community (civic engagement).
  3. Connecting people within the community where the civic hacking activity is located.
  4. Connecting people within the civic hacking community.
  5. Connecting people from cities around NE Wisconsin (and outside the region).
  6. Connecting people from different demographic communities.

The main point of the posts I've written here in the past couple months have been about the first two interpretations listed above. Those posts have talked about different uses for available government data, about making more data available in an easily-usable form, and about collecting new data. And I've talked about individual citizens taking personal responsibility for working to fix or improve situations they think should be different, instead of just complaining that the 'government' should fix it.

So now I'm going to talk a little about the last four interpretations.

Connecting people within the community where the civic hacking activity is located.

One of the benefits of civic hacking done right is that many people within a city can benefit from that activity. If one guy, like Mike Putnam, creates an app using the AppletonAPI that will tell him, 'hey, you have to take the garbage out tonight, and oh yeah, this is a recycle week,' not only can Mike use the app, but anyone else in the city who has an Android smartphone can use it, too. (Unless it's a verrry old Android, like mine...) Maybe another civic hacker sets up a [freespace] temporary civic space. All the people who use that [freespace] become connected to civic hacking and to the people who created it. If an Adopt-A-Hydrant program is created, all the people who adopt a fire hydrant to keep it clear of snow become connected to the firefighters who have to use the hydrants. If a Restaurant Health Inspection app is created at the hackthon, many people who check Appleton's restaurant inspection reports on that app will be connected through that hack. A lot more connecting may occur through a civic hack than will occur through an action the city pays for with tax dollars as just one more thing people expect cities to do.

So one of my goals for the "DHMN Civic Hackathon/Appleton 2015" on June 6, 2015, is to have civic hacks created that connect more people throughout Appleton than would have otherwise been connected.

Connecting people within the civic hacking community.

There are a lot of smart, civic-minded, self-starting people out there who want to do things to improve their city, region, state, or country. Civic hacking is an outlet for that energy and desire to improve the place they live. It's possible for all those people to do civic hacking on their own, sitting at home or wherever they're doing their version of civic hacking. But chances are they'll have less fun doing it on their own, and they'll accomplish much more if they connect with other people in the civic hacking community. It's easier and quicker to create a high-quality Android app if you have a team of people with different skills working on that app than if you just have one coder creating the app by himself. It's easier to convince a government body to make their public data available and easily usable for civic hacking if they see many people are interested in working on it and are (sort of) organized to do just that. And in a connected community of civic hackers, it will be much easier to find like-minded people who want to work on a particular type of civic hack.

Another of my goals for the June 6 event is to create the beginnings of a civic hacking community in our region.

Connecting people from cities around NE Wisconsin (and outside the region).

Cities in NE Wisconsin are pretty much like most cities in other areas. They find it challenging to work together (no matter what they say to the media or in public meetings) because when media is looking for a story each city wants to be seen as 'The Best' no matter what the story topic is. When companies are looking for a place to build their new facility, each city wants to be considered the best choice in the region of where that company should locate. Elected officials feel their city needs to be #1 in any discussion the officials or city employees have. As Garrison Keillor would put it, in 'our' city, all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average. There are minor efforts in NE Wisconsin for different cities and organizations to work together, but most of NE Wisconsin (and probably much of the world) operates on a scarcity approach rather than an abundance approach to collaboration. Well, individual citizens from different communities around the region need to connect with each other to improve this situation. I've been connecting TIME community people (Tech, Innovators, Makers, Entrepreneurs) throughout the region for the past ten years. And based on the people I've talked to, this hackathon will have participants from Green Bay, De Pere, Neenah and Oshkosh, as well as from Appleton. We'd also have civic hackers from many more cities in the region if more people knew about the event. Some of the people I've talked to have expressed an interest in having a DHMN Civic Hackathon in their city. One of the best things about open source civic hacks is being able to build something in one city, then easily replicate it in many other cities.

A third goal for me is to connect people from different parts of NE Wisconsin by means of the hackathon.

Connecting people from different demographic communities.

A demographic group is a section of the population sharing common characteristics, such as age, sex, income, education, etc. So what this interpretation means is that we need a good mix of participants with a wide variety of skills/experience, home location, age, sex, ethnicity, languages spoken, and other characteristics. Civic hacking doesn't need a whole spectrum of people because of EEOC government regulations or because of political correctness or because of some corporate policy. We need a whole spectrum of people with different perspectives so we'll try different ways of looking at data and solving problems. It's so we'll be aware of different problems, issues that some people would never even think of, or maybe even know about.

The goal of connecting civic hackers from many different demographics is one I'm probably not going to do so well on during this hackathon.

I've had a couple discussions with people about trying to recruit civic hackers with a huge variety of points of view and different experiences and knowledge, but chances are we're going to end up with mostly white American males. That's partly because our geographic location and the event topic. Those won't change for the next civic hackathon in NE Wisconsin. So two things we need to do differently for the next civic hacking event is (1) get people from those different demographics involved with the planning team for the event, and (2) do a LOT more marketing, promotion and publicity, with some of that marketing being intentional toward the different demographic groups. Representatives of the different demographic communities can also suggest features of the event that will encourage participation for a particular demographic. Examples of this which were mentioned to me are having event t-shirts available in women's styles and sizes and having childcare provided for women who might participate as civic hackers if that service is provided.

In summary, as I tried to explain above, this civic hackathon is about much more than just taking open data and making interesting apps for the city of Appleton.

If you haven't yet signed up for the DHMN Civic Hackathon/Appleton 2015, Click Here To Register Today. It's free. And you'll be glad you did.


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