Sunday, August 2, 2015

Civic Hacking For Everyone, Part 2: Students

My goal for today’s post is to encourage as many students as possible in NE Wisconsin to learn about civic hacking and participate in it to some extent.

The first 'Civic Hacking For Everyone' post focused on the tremendous opportunities for women and civic hacking. Part 2 in this series takes a look at an equally underserved demographic -- students.

An earlier post, “Hacking Begins At School,” was focused more on civic hacks involving schools and local education systems and services than it was on getting students engaged with civic hacking. This post will try to show why students 13 to 25 years old* should be involved with civic hacking.

Here are just a few reasons why students make fantastic civic hackers:

Student civic hackers win $140,000 Samsung Contest
  1. Students are aware of needs of young people and, as civic hackers, will make sure those needs aren’t overlooked with respect to local government services and community needs
  2. Some schools have a community service requirement. Wouldn’t it be great if students had an opportunity and the assistance to develop civic hacks as all or part of their community service. Not all students would choose the civic hacking option, but I’m betting a few geek students would jump at the opportunity.
  3. Much of civic hacking involves learning new tech skills and applying new tech ideas. Nobody does new ideas better than young people. Not only will student civic hackers be good with emerging technologies, they will benefit by learning those technologies before their peers and may even start developing extensions to those technologies. This brings civic hack benefits to the local communities and valuable new skills to the students.
  4. Many Gen Z youth are interested in improving their community and getting real world experience. Civic hacking is an excellent way to offer both those things to students.
  5. Students are an evergreen source of new civic hackers. These young people will keep the civic hacking community exciting, interesting and growing. As existing civic hackers move, get older, get burned out or just decide to spend their time on activities other than civic hacking, students will step in to fill their shoes, stand on their shoulders and do SOC (some other cliche). 
  6. Young people are less cynical about government than someone who has repeatedly been frustrated, disappointed or stonewalled by government problems, red tape and paperwork. Their fresh viewpoints and lack of preconceived limitations will allow them to develop better solutions to problems. Their optimism may propel a civic hack to success that would otherwise have been mired in the quicksand of circular arguments about who’s right or whose idea is best.
  7. College students have been the lead organizers in many civic hackathons, and I wouldn’t be surprised if high school students have organized a few civic hacking activities too. We need that student initiative, enthusiasm, and energy! Plus, organizing a civic hackathon will give the students a whole new outlook on what it takes to pull off an event like that. Being a hackathon leader can also open doors for them in the future.
  8. Because some students don’t have a full time job and never-ending list of family responsibilities, they often have seemingly-limitless hours to devote to topics of high interest to them. For at least a few students, that high interest activity could be civic hacking.
  9. Once they understand the positive concept of civic hacking, the ‘hack’ concept will appeal to many students. They’ll have the opportunity to become l33t not only among their friends, but among experienced coders and civic activists. Their new label of ‘hacker’ will be a source of pride and motivation.
  10. After we launch the NE Wisconsin collaborative cybersecurity initiative, students will have fun joining the Cyber Defense Force, getting valuable experience in setting up security systems for computers, smartphones and other digital devices, and helping area residents understand digital security.

I recently read a post titled “Always Connected: Generation Z, the "Digitarians"” which talks about the generation coming after the Millennials.
“...Each Digitarian has always had a device connected to the internet, has been taught to type, and in some instances was taught how to program early in school. This is a major difference between early Millennials and Digitarians. Millennials were not taught to type or code, they had to self learn...For Digitarians, growing up always connected meant access to limitless information...Digitarians expect everything to be immediately accessible through their internet browser...Digitarians know apps, games, and web browsers. They don't know DOS, the blue screen of death, or about upgrading their hard drive. Unless they go into a profession that requires them to learn about computers, they will never need to know. It is not necessary because software and hardware are now packaged into devices that are quickly customized to match their desired user experience.
This means Digitarians will not accept interface mistakes...Digitarians will not shape the internet, because that has already been done. What they will do is adopt and demand better technology like self driving cars, embeddable devices, and interfaces controlled by gestures. As Millennials continue to connect and automate the world, the Digitarians will come in to make the experiences we crafted smoother than ever…”
Randy Apuzzo’s label ‘Digitarian’ may not stick to Gen Z, but I think his observation is spot on that “growing up always connected meant access to limitless information” and means they “expect everything to be immediately accessible through their internet browser [or mobile app].” Not all local and county government functions need to be optimized for smartphone access or interaction, but if a city wants young people to engage with them and see value in services the city provides, the city had better be eating it’s own dogfood on smartphones and be happy with the user experience. The best way to ensure Gen Z has an engaged and enjoyable local government experience is to get them involved with civic hacking.

Fast Company’s article “What Is Generation Z, And What Does It Want?” reinforces the need for local governments to understand and engage with Gen Zers.
“...Gen Z...makes up a quarter of the U.S. population and by 2020 will account for 40% of all consumers. Understanding them will be critical to [organizations] wanting to succeed in the next decade and beyond....”
There is good reason to think Gen Z will embrace civic hacking. The NYT article “Make Way for Generation Z” suggests that Gen Z students want meaningful and impactful experience and want to be involved in improving their communities.
“...Gen Z is already out in the world, curious and driven, investigating how to obtain relevant professional experience before college...Doug Anderson...organized the Gen Z conference. He is...harnessing the excitement high-school-age Americans have about their careers and helping them explore their options...Among those who attended was Sejal Makheja, 16, a sophomore who lives in McLean, Va. When she was 14, Sejal founded the Elevator Project, an organization that aims to lift people out of poverty through apprenticeship, vocational training and job placement...“The young people at the conference want to take an active role in their communities and their futures,” she said. “It’s an upbeat group that’s full of passion...”
One sort of random students & civic hacking item:  this tweetSo cool! @MSNewEngland 1000 hs students civic hacking @gencitizen #CivicTechChallenge 11/1:” says Microsoft New England had 1000 high school students involved with civic hacking. We need to talk with MS New England and find out what they did, then get MS or another major sponsor to partner with DHMN on an equally awesome student civic hacking event in NE Wisconsin.

I’ll close this post with three calls to action for connecting students and civic hacking:

  1. To all students, 13 - 25+ years old:  get involved with civic hacking. Figure out what you and your friends should get from the city that you’re not getting now. Figure out how you want to make your community a better place using your knowledge and experience with 21st century tools. Watch this Catherine Bracy TED talk video if this is the first time you’ve heard about civic hacking.
  2. To all educators and school administrators: get your students involved in civic hacking activities. Offer them independent study or project opportunities to create or improve civic hacks. Make sure the students know about civic hacking and how they can get involved. Have them read this blog post, the article about the students who won the $140K Samsung contest, or some other online item talking about student civic hackers.
  3. To all city and county officials: Be aware of the value students can bring to local government. Encourage them to engage with their governments, and if you’re aware of civic hacking opportunities, connect every student you know to those opportunities.


* Students’ ages -- students can be younger than 13 years or older than 25 and still be civic hackers. But there are many issues when events involve youth younger than 13 unless their parents are with them. The primary audience for this post is college students and pre-college students who are at least 13.


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