Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Non-NE Wisconsin Corporate Support For Civic Hacking In Our Region

Today’s post takes a look at having corporations from outside our region support civic hacking activities in the 18 counties of NE Wisconsin. A previous post talked about having local organizations support civic hacking events, but it’s also a great idea to have corporations from outside the area support your activity.

It’s a good idea to develop a list of reasons why a company should consider supporting civic hacking. Below is my initial list of benefits for corporations based outside NE Wisconsin which support our civic hacking.
  1. Opportunity for supporter representatives to work with tech people and other civic hackers, building relationships with potential future employees, referrers of future employees, partners or customers.
  2. For companies whose products are currently used in civic hacks, supporting civic hacking events offers chance to enhance current use cases, find new use cases and evangelize the company’s products for civic hack use.
  3. For companies whose products are not currently used in civic hacks but could be, supporting civic hacking events offers chance to explore, evangelize and showcase the company’s products use in civic hacks.
  4. Supporter organization logo, website link and short paragraph about community support can be displayed on NE Wisconsin civic hacking websites.
  5. Supporters’ names displayed on signage at event and opportunity to hang organization banner at civic hacking events
  6. Enables corporation to give back to community and get good PR, karma, visibility, and increased reputation in our region and among civic hackers.
  7. 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.
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.”

If a company’s community outreach, community advocate or marketing person looks at this list of benefits and feels it’s worthwhile to support our civic hacking activity, their next question will likely be, “What would you like us to provide?” At that point, we explain that they can support our civic hacking event as a partner or a sponsor.

Partners and sponsors are two categories of organizations that support civic hacking. Partners are organizations which officially endorse events and enable civic hacking participation by at least two experienced coders or civic hackers who are not coders. Enabling participation can mean they internally promote civic hacking events and cover costs for their own employees to participate in those events. A civic hacking partner could also cover the costs for experienced civic hackers who are not their employees to participate in events such as a hackathon or workshop. Partners can provide tech assistance such as teaching coding skills like Python or using a coding language for practical applications, e.g. development of a civic hack.

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. 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 for local companies are typically $500, although it would be helpful and reasonable for non-NE Wisconsin corporate sponsors to cover specific event components which might be more than $500, such as the cost of a meal for hackathon participants, which might be 100 to 200 people.

Here is a list of items we need covered by sponsors for civic hacking events:
Civic hacking venue and Internet access
  1. Venue. It’s ideal to get a local venue to provide their facility as an in-kind sponsorship. If that can’t be arranged, then we need to have a sponsor cover the cost to rent a venue.
  2. Internet Access / WiFi. Robust Internet access, usually mostly through WiFi, is a critical requirement for most civic hacking events. Sometimes that will come standard with the venue; other times it needs to be provided separately. It’s best to have a reliable WiFi Internet provider, such as AT&T or Time Warner Cable, contribute that as an in-kind sponsorship. Otherwise a sponsor is needed to cover that cost.
  3. Meals. Civic hackers are contributing their time and talent at no cost to work on improving their communities, so it’s nice to provide meals during the event. Logistics work out best if the entire cost of a meal is handled by one sponsor, rather than splitting costs between sponsors.
  4. Beverages and snacks. It’s good to keep the civic hackers fueled with snacks and beverages. Once upon a time, a hacking event might have only provided pizza, Jolt, donuts and coffee, but in 2015 it seems to work better to balance healthy snacks and drinks with stereotype hacker goodies. Water, tea, and 100% juice drinks accompanied by Mountain Dew, Pepsi, Red Bull, Monster, and coffee. Fresh fruit, fresh veggies, nuts, Kashi bars and popcorn accompanied by cookies, Cliff Bars, jerky, chips, and donuts.
  5. T-shirts. Having t-shirts imprinted with an event logo, or at least event name and date, has two benefits. First, many participants enjoy getting a freebie like that and proudly wear the shirt at other events or while out and about. Second, the shirt serves as marketing for future civic hacking events and promotes the sponsors of the event (usually listed on the back of the shirt).
  6. Supplies and equipment. Some events will need a limited amount of supplies and equipment, such as Post-It Notes, flipchart paper, flipchart easels, whiteboards, projectors, Sharpies, nametags, etc. Equipment such as easels, whiteboards and projectors can often be loaned by local organizations, but if not, they will need to be rented for the event.
  7. Tech tools and services. Building and supporting civic hacks require tech tools and services. Examples of this type of support includes software, premium services from freemium websites, online storage and hosting, domain registration, etc. One good approach for services and tools that have monthly or annual fees is to provide three years of complementary access or service. If a civic hack is still being used after three years, chances are good the city or other government agency the hack is related to will want to support it.
  8. Other swag. In addition to the t-shirts, it’s fun for civic hackers to score some swag when they participate in an event. Examples are free company products, promo items with company logos, like stickers for laptops, coffee cups, travel mugs, shirts, backpacks, etc, unique flash drives. These swag items and the above sponsored items 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.
The next question is how to connect with potential supporters from outside NE Wisconsin. Every situation is a little different, but here are five ways to reach out and ask for support:

  • The best connection for requesting support is local TIME community members (Tech, Innovators, Makers, Entrepreneurs) who works for a company based outside NE Wisconsin.
  • The second best connection is someone who has good contacts through work or their personal network with community advocates / community managers / evangelists or with marketing managers.
  • A good person to contact a company about supporting civic hacking is someone who is a power or long term user of a company's products which are for civic hacks or would be very suitable for civic hacks.
  • Another option is if you can have a good friend (bridge contact) connect you to an influential person at a company which is likely to support civic hacking events.
  • The last type of connection is someone who's very interested in recruiting corporate supporters but does not have and cannot find a personal connection to someone at the potential supporter corporation.

Now lets look at what corporations might consider supporting civic hacking. Here are three high-potential categories of civic hacking supporters.

  • Corporations that have supported similar events in our area or elsewhere. A few companies that previously supported civic hacking activities include Accela, Adecco, Amazon, AT&T, Azavea, Digital Ocean, Esri, Mapbox, and Red Hat.
  • Technology companies, especially ones that hire developers or have their products used by civic hackers.
  • Corporations involved in or relevant to activities related to civic hacks. This could include waste pickup and recycling companies (relevant to “Is It Recycling Week?”), road construction-related companies and car companies (transportation civic hacks), microelectronics hardware and 3D printing companies (for citizen science hacks, like Open Water).

One final item regarding corporate supporters addresses full commitment to sustainable civic hacking. Canonical, Google, Facebook, IBM, Microsoft, Red Hat and other corporations have employees whose job is 100% to write or be an advocate for open source code.. “...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..." Let’s extend that concept into a new vertical -- the world of civic hacking.

Wouldn’t it be cool to have each of the above companies hire one full time remote employee to spend part of their time building, maintaining and improving civic hacks in NE Wisconsin and the other part of their time being a company ambassador at hackathons around the country, helping other areas work on their civic hacks! Five full time civic hackers working together in NE Wisconsin -- just imagine the cool hacks and the fun and productive hackathons we’ll have. For starters, they can build GoogleMuni / Digital Front Door for a city in this region, then fork an instance of Open311.

My bottom line calls to action are these:
  1. If you work for a corporation or have good connections with a corporation which is based outside NE Wisconsin and might consider being a partner or sponsor for NE Wisconsin civic hacking, please have a discussion with them about them supporting this community activity.
  2. If you are on the leadership team at a corporation based outside NE Wisconsin and you’re willing to support civic hacking in our region, please contact Bob Waldron at bwaldron (at) gmail [dott] com. And, please, seriously consider my suggestion for hiring a full time civic hacker, similar to how large tech companies now hire full time open source software developers.
  3. If you think civic hacking has great value and you’d like to reach out to corporations outside our region about being a partner or sponsor for this activity, please contact me.

Here are just a few non-NE Wisconsin companies that might consider sponsoring civic hacking activities. I’m sure readers of this blog post can easily 30 or 40 more to this list.

Digital Ocean
Directions Magazine
Cory Doctorow
General Assembly
League of Women Voters
Make Magazine
O’Reilly Publishing
Red Bull
Red Hat
Daniel Suarez
Sunlight Foundation
Time-Warner Cable
US Cellular


No comments:

Post a Comment