Monday, August 3, 2015

NE Wisconsin Corporate Partners And Sponsors For Civic Hacking

This post presents a few thoughts about NE Wisconsin corporations and their potential involvement with civic hacking in the region.

Corporations in NE Wisconsin are pretty good about supporting community activities. I won’t try to list all those activities, or even a lot of them, but here are just a couple examples:

However, one type of civic activity that doesn’t get a lot of support in our area is tech-focused activities. A big reason for this is that NE Wisconsin isn’t a hotbed of high tech. It’s no Silicon Valley. It’s not Seattle, New York, Austin, Boston, Chicago or even Madison. So you won’t find a lot of tech activities happening in NE Wisconsin. But if we want the area to attract more tech people and tech companies, and if we want people with tech skills to stay in the area, we need to have more activities connected to technology. And that means we need more corporate support for tech activities.

Today’s post is focused on encouraging businesses and other organizations in NE Wisconsin to support civic hacking, an activity that typically involves a lot of technology and tech people.

If that term civic hacking is new to you, don’t worry, it doesn’t involve breaking into computers and doing bad things. It only involves doing good things, and working to improve our cities and our region. Civic hacking is bringing “a 21st-century tool set to bear on the problems that government faces.” It includes collaborating with others to create, build and invent open source solutions using publicly-released data and technology to solve social, economic, and environmental challenges relevant to your neighborhood, city, state, or country. Watch the Catherine Bracy TED Talk video below to hear her explain what civic hacking is.

The NE Wisconsin civic hacking community is composed of civic activists, developers / coders, designers, innovators, makers and entrepreneurs, like-minded and complementary-minded people who live in the 18 counties of northeast Wisconsin. Anyone can participate; you don’t have to be an expert in technology, you just have to care about your neighborhood and community. Civic hackers can be described as ‘doers’ and are sometimes called ‘creatives,’ ‘people who don’t watch much tv’ or ‘participants, not spectators.’ When 200+ members of the region’s civic hacking community become well-connected and active in community activities, this ‘virtual critical mass’ will begin to impact the culture and civic tech of the region. A connected community results in many serendipitous interactions between community members and brings many benefits to the residents, cities and organizations of NE Wisconsin.

Below are eight benefits of supporting civic hacking in NE Wisconsin:

  1. Primary supporter benefit is having a better community as a result of citizens becoming more engaged in civic improvement, more discussions being held about how to improve the community, and solutions being built to address civic deficiencies or problems.
  2. Opportunity for supporter representatives to work with tech people and other civic hackers, building relationships with potential future employees, partners or customers.
  3. Supporter organization logo, website link and short paragraph about community support can be displayed on NE Wisconsin civic hacking websites.
  4. Supporters’ names displayed on signage at event and opportunity to hang organization banner at civic hacking events
  5. Enables corporation to give back to community and get good PR, karma, visibility, and increased reputation in our region and among civic hackers.
  6. Participants have the chance to learn new tech skills and other civic hacking tools, as well as an opportunity to expand networks of like-minded people, benefitting supporter employees and networks they’re a part of.
  7. Civic hacking contributes to improved community life and improved regional culture for the TIME community (Tech, Innovators, Makers, Entrepreneurs). NE Wisconsin’s current culture and limited opportunities for people interested in work/play TIME activities results in significant emigration of existing TIME community members and minimal immigration of new TIME community members.
  8. Improved culture increases retention and immigration of members of the TIME community. More TIME community members in the region leads to increased job creation in Northeast Wisconsin and a more resilient and sustainable regional economy.

You don’t have to just take my word for it that supporting civic hacking has definite benefits. Read the Code for America post “10 Ways Civic Hacking is Good for Cities.”

There are two primary categories of organizations that support civic hacking -- partners and sponsors. Partners are community organizations which officially endorse event and will enable civic hacking participation by at least two experienced coders or civic hackers who are not coders. Enabling participation can mean they internally promote and publicize civic hacking activities and encourage their own employees to participate in those events. A civic hacking partner could also cover the costs for experienced civic hackers from outside the region to participate in organized civic hacking events, such as a hackathon or workshop.

The other category of civic hacking supporters is sponsors. Sponsors are organizations or people who make the civic hacking activities financially possible with a donation of money or in-kind products or services.

Civic hacking in NE Wisconsin is mostly a participant-driven activity. There are no paid organizers or workers at the events. There typically won’t be paid speakers for activities in our region. Participants coming from outside NE Wisconsin will be experienced civic hackers or people who can help civic hackers be more effective. The participant-driven approach keeps costs low and means sponsoring an event is inexpensive compared to other similar-size community events. Primary sponsorships are typically $500 (or more if the sponsor wants to cover the total cost of one expensive item, such as a meal for 100 civic hackers). Contributing sponsorships are typically $50 to $500; these allow smaller businesses or organizations to support civic hacking without breaking the bank.

A large enough venue and robust wifi / Internet access are the two primary requirements to have a civic hacking event. Other components such as meals, t-shirts, snacks, beverages, stickers, etc, are added incentives for people to donate their time and brainpower to improving the community around them or the government-related data and services at a local, state or national level.

If NE Wisconsin companies are willing to go beyond the basic costs for a civic hacking meetup that lasts somewhere between two hours and two days, a next step might be to sponsor an extended hackathon or civic hacking challenge. AT&T and a group of local organizations did just that in New York with their civic apps contest. At left is the graphic used in promoting the New York AT&T Tech Valley Civic Apps Challenge. We could the same type of event in NE Wisconsin if leaders at companies in the region felt it was worthwhile. I put together the graphic below on the right as an example of what it might look like for our event. The organizations shown on this graphic may not be interested in supporting a civic hacking challenge, but if they're not, there are many others in our part of Wisconsin, and outside the area, who'd be willing to support it and maybe even interested in being active participants in of this type of tech activity.

Google, Facebook, IBM, Red Hat and Canonical all have employees whose job is 100% to write or be an advocate for open source code. Even Apple, one of the most closed and secretive tech corporations, and Microsoft, which was once the most adamant enemies of open source, now pay employees to write and evangelize open source. Many corporations see value in open source software from which they don't directly receive revenue. They also put money into building and supporting a strong tech community. “...This has translated into an ever greater percentage of open-source code being written by paid/sponsored developers. As Evangelia Berdou described in her Ph.D. thesis years ago, "Paid developers are more likely to maintain critical parts of the code base" because "The ability to work full-time on a project allows paid developers to develop their technical skills and their understanding of the code base to a greater extent than volunteers who usually contribute in their free time..."

It’s unlikely to happen soon, but if corporations in NE Wisconsin feel that having a stronger tech community in our region is important, they should consider hiring one or several community advocates to connect, expand and strengthen the tech community. Sponsoring an occasional tech event is beneficial and should be done, but it’s not enough. You may be familiar with the saying that software is eating the world. That concept has only become more true and more influential in the years since Marc Andreessen wrote it. And new hardware products are increasingly including a significant level of software because “the best new ideas live at the boundary between the real world and software.” The world is becoming more digital, and that means faster changes. A strong tech community is key to coping with the increasing speed of change. If NE Wisconsin doesn’t take active steps to support and build the tech community in our region, we will continue to slip further behind regions that put a strong emphasis on innovation and the role their tech community plays in building a stronger and more resilient regional economy.

In addition to hiring tech community advocates, at some point the NE Wisconsin culture might even start to include companies that endorse a slice of Google 20% time, or provide an on-premises internal makerspace.

In the meantime, supporting NE Wisconsin civic hacking activities is a good way to build and engage with the region’s tech community.

Today’s post addressed the issue of local organizations being partners and sponsors for civic hacking. I’ll write a future post about corporate and organizational sponsors from outside NE Wisconsin getting involved with civic hacking in NE Wisconsin.

My bottom line calls to action are these:

  1. If you work for a corporation or have good connections with a corporation which might consider being a partner or sponsor for NE Wisconsin civic hacking, please consider having a discussion with them about them supporting this community activity.
  2. If you are on the leadership team at a NE Wisconsin corporation and you feel civic hacking is an activity you’re willing to support, please contact Bob Waldron at bwaldron (at) gmail [dott] com, or offer support for civic hacking if someone contacts you about this.
  3. If you think civic hacking has great value and you’d like to reach out to corporations in our region about being a partner or sponsor for this activity, please contact me.


Here are just a few NE Wisconsin companies that might consider supporting civic hacking activities. I’m sure readers of this blog post can easily add 40 or 50 more to this list.

Affinity Health
Appleton Beer Factory
Associated Bank
Avastone Technologies
Baylake Bank
Bay Shipbuilding
The Boldt Company
CD Smith Construction
Community First Credit Union
Faith Technologies
Festival Foods
Fox Communities Credit Union
Georgia-Pacific Corp
Grande Cheese Company
Green Bay Packaging
Green Bay Packers
Guardian Life
Heartland Business Systems
Infinity Technology
JJ Keller
League of Women Voters
Marinette Marine Corp
Miron Construction
MODS International
Network Health
Nicolet National Bank
Omni Resources
Optimal Digital Marketing
Oshkosh Truck / Pierce
Panera Bread
Right Management
School Specialty
Society Insurance
Stellar Blue
Skyline Technologies
SMT Technologies
TeamLogic IT
Theda Care
Time-Warner Cable
US Cellular
Waste Management
Waupaca Foundry
We Engergies
Werner Electric


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