Monday, August 31, 2015

“Dune” And Hacking The California Drought

Short post tonight. Was going to be longer, but other things came up. So I’ll just point out two issues related to civic hacking that were highlighted by an article about a Los Angeles civic hackathon.

During the LA 2015 hackathon held on the National Day of Civic Hacking, over 500 participants worked on hacking the California drought. Their focus on the drought and one of the civic hacks that came out of the hackathon reminded me of the science fiction book “Dune” by Frank Herbert.

Issue One:  Civic hacking will have the most value and the most citizen participation when it’s addressing a serious problem.

Issue Two:  Civic hacking will have the most value when there is widespread community support for the activity.

The article that prompted this post was “What Agencies Can Learn From the Frenzied Creative Blitz to End California's Drought.” The ‘agencies’ referred to in the title aren't government agencies, they're advertising agencies (which I’d consider part of the larger business sector of marketing companies). Here’s an excerpt from the article:
In June, our invention team here at Deutsch, in partnership with USC, Hack for L.A., Global Shapers and the City of Los Angeles, put on the city's first Futurethon—Saving Water—a 48-hour hackathon aimed at inventing solutions to hack the California drought...The turnout was impressive. The 500-person venue was standing room only and included everyone from students, teachers and farmers to advertising and technology professionals. Ages ranged from 13 to 73, and the buzz was palpable. 
Our track included 60 people and 14 teams...The challenge for the teams was to devise tech or marketing solutions that would do one of three things: help reduce water consumption, increase water recycling practices, or keep water consumption habits top of mind… 
The runner-up prize went to DewGood, an outdoor water condenser disguised as a
DewGood water condenser built at hackathon
solar-powered garden lamp. The lamp lowers air temperature, collects dew and waters plants in a 10- by 10-foot area. The team brought a 3-D printer to the event and built a working prototype
Issue One:  A Serious Problem

Based on everything I’ve read and seen, the drought in California will be life changing for many people, communities and companies. It’s a problem that many government organizations and other groups are working to address. It was important enough to the general population that people from students to farmers to ad agency creatives worked together in a weekend civic hackathon. And continued working on their projects after the weekend.

Everyone in NE Wisconsin interested in civic hacking should think about what problems our region has that are worth bring people together to try and solve them. Think about what things bother you about our area, ask your neighbors what problems they’d like to see civic hackers tackle, talk to your city officials.

It’s challenging to get most people to work together unless there’s a significant problem that affects all of them. What are the biggest problems that cities, counties and civic hackers could tackle in the 18 counties of NE Wisconsin?

Issue Two:  Widespread Community Support

Warka Water tower in Ethiopia
The LA civic hackathon was sponsored by a global ad agency / marketing company, a major university, a Code for America brigade of civic hackers, one of the largest cities in the US, and Global Shapers, an initiative of the World Economic Forum which is funded by Coca Cola and many other global corporations. This was not an event sponsor just by Google, or Intel, or a group of technology companies. This had broad-based community support from diverse sectors of the economy.

To have maximum impact in NE Wisconsin, civic hacking will need the same type of widespread community support. Community leaders who know what the problems are and have to deal with them. Members of the community who have the problems that need fixing, so they can be part of the solution, not just have it handed to them, only to find out that it doesn’t work. A diverse group of business, educational and community organization partners and sponsors to support the civic hacking activities and solutions. For maximum effect, these groups and more need to be involved.

So the next time you have the opportunity to talk with someone about civic hacking, ask them what problems they think are worth working on. And ask them if they know any organizations that might be interested in supporting the people working to solve those problems.


For the science fiction fans, the issues faced by Californians in the current drought has prompted a number of articles and discussions about the living conditions, coping strategies and technologies on the fictitious desert planet Dune.

The second prize in the LA Hackathon, DewGood, may have reminded you of the water traps mentioned in “Dune.” If you’re interested in real world work on those types of devices, including the outdoor water condenser prototype built during the hackathon with the aid of a 3D printer, here are a couple links. If you want more, Google will be your guide.

Your lawn sucks... water. Join the DewGood Moisture Gardening movement.

This Tower Pulls Drinking Water Out of Thin Air 

Warka Water

To Save California, Read “Dune”


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