Tuesday, October 27, 2015

BarCamping Civic Hackers: Participants, Not Attendees

[This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared on the myDigitechnician blog.]

BarCamp Green Bay 2015 is happening on November 7, 2015, less than two weeks away. Sign up TODAY -- it’s free, it’s fun, and it’s for You.

Yes, this event is ‘for’ you -- and this means that you and other people at the BarCamp will be a key part of making the event an interesting and enjoyable gathering.

BarCamps are unconferences with a strong focus on technology and other topics of interest to people who use or help make technology. If you’re not familiar with BarCamps, read “9 Reasons BarCamp Green Bay Is For Civic Hackers” to find out why you may want to participate in the event. Many of those reasons will also be of interest to people who are not civic hackers.

PARTICIPATION is a critical aspect of BarCamps. BarCamps have only ‘participants,’ not ‘attendees.’

Conferences have attendees. At most conferences, most attendees have little or no impact on the success of the conference or how fun and interesting it is for other people at the event. The conference organizer(s) decides what will happen at the event, who the speakers will be, and what the agenda will be. The attendees only get to choose what presentations they want to listen to (or fall asleep in), and the presentations are generally not designed for input and feedback from attendees. Often the presentations are thinly-disguised advertisements for a the presenter's products or services, regardless of the attendees' interest in those products or services.

Unconferences often start with a self-introductions circle
BarCamps have participants. The classic format for a BarCamp is an unconference utilizing Open Space Technology. This means participants determine what topics will be discussed at the event. This also means the participants will both lead sessions and actively participate in discussion at one or more of the sessions. Another way to state this is: “NO SPECTATORS, ONLY PARTICIPANTS.”

The concept of BarCamps is that discussions which take place in hallways at conferences art the most interesting and valuable conversations of the conference. These are discussions of high interest to people at the conferences, rather than the one-way canned PowerPoint presentations by a limited number of pre-arranged speakers. Unconferences put the focus on conversations of high interest to people at the event -- BarCamp sessions should be like hallway discussions at conferences. The person leading the session (a BarCamp participant) initiates and guides the discussion, while other people really interested in the topic (BarCamp participants in the session) chime in with questions, suggestions, resources, experiences, etc. Participants are key to all discussions and sessions at BarCamps.

Group Photo of BarCamp Participants
Unconferences are participant-driven events. Participants decide what topics they want to lead a session on. Participants decide which sessions they want to be part of. Before BarCamp, they can post on the event website the sessions they want to lead or participate in. Participants can lead sessions, or they can make the session discussions more valuable by asking relevant questions or contributing useful and relevant topic information or experiences. Participants help organize the barcamp or help the organizers with logistics on the day(s) of the event. They personally invite other people to the BarCamp or promote the event on their Facebook page, Twitter account, Google + page, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, LinkedIn, blog or other social media they use. Participants recruit sponsors for the event.

In short, everything related to BarCamps is done by participants. There is no ‘they’ or ‘them’ at BarCamps, only ‘we’ or ‘us.’

The focus on participants at BarCamps is especially relevant to civic hacking in two ways:

  1. As a participant, you have a great opportunity to share with other creative, self-motivated people what you know about civic hacking and why you are a civic hacker. If you lead a session on some aspect of of civic hacking, you have a great opportunity to let other people know what that term means and to get lots of input on what civic hacks the other session participants would find useful or interesting.
  2. Because BarCampers are participation-focused people, they will make great civic hackers. So BarCamp Green Bay offers two opportunities to expand the NE Wisconsin civic hacking community. The first expansion opportunities is that you should invite lots of potential civic hackers to register for BarCamp Green Bay and to participate in your session. They might enjoy the event and your session so much that they want to immediately start working on their first civic hack! The second opportunity to recruit new civic hackers is that during your session and at other opportune moments during the November 7 BarCamp, you can invite BarCampers to participate in the November 17 meetup and in other NE Wisconsin civic hacking events. Suggest that people get on the NE Wisconsin Slack team, download and give feedback on the “Is it recycling week?” Android app, and take a look at the DHMN Civic Hacks blog.

My next post about BarCamp Green Bay 2015 will be on topic of ‘sessions, not presentations.’

Sign up today for BarCamp Green Bay, and reserve all day November 7th on your calendar for a good time with tech people, innovatorsmakers and entrepreneurs (the TIME community of NE Wisconsin).


Monday, October 26, 2015

November 17 -- NE Wisconsin’s Next Civic Hacker Meetup

The next NE Wisconsin civic hackers’ event will take place on Tuesday, November 17, 2015, starting at 7 PM, most likely in Appleton, Wisconsin, or one of it’s nearby Fox Valley neighbor cities. It was suggested we meet at a location which provides tasty food and beverages, so we’re asking for suggestions of good local places. (I’ll update this post to confirm location once that detail is finalized. Updated update -- We're meeting at Bazil's Pub on College Avenue in downtown Appleton.)

Time:  Official start time is 7 PM, although I’m going to show up by 6:30. If you’re new to civic hacking and want to find out what’s going with the topic in our region, show up before 7 PM, and we can talk about that. No definite end time -- we’ll go as long as people are enjoying themselves. I suspect most people will head home by 9 PM, but if the discussion is worthwhile, a few hackers may hang around much later. Check the #dhmncivichacks channel on the NE Wisconsin Slack team -- we’ll try to make sure and put a message on there when the meetup officially ends. Click here to join this Slack team if you’re not already a member.

Nov 17 Agenda:  This will be an informal, mostly social, more-yakking-than-hacking event, although I’m sure phones, tablets and laptops will show up, and lines of code may be discussed, modified or written. The Garbage Gang, a core group of coders who’ve produced NE Wisconsin’s only civic hacks, mostly related to recycle and trash pickup, suggested it would be a good idea to discuss civic hacks other than recycle/trash at the November 17 event. The goal of that discussion is to identify one or two new interesting and worthwhile civic hacks to work on next for NE Wisconsin. Trash has value, but it’s not the only important topic in NE Wisconsin.

This Nov 17 gathering will be highly valuable meetup if we can identify the next project that a group of civic hackers will work on.

Mike Putnam originally decided to build the “Is It Recycle Week?” Android app civic hack because trash pickup is something that occurs at his house every week, and he occasionally doesn’t remember if it’s a ‘recycle week.’ [Shameless Advertisement: Click here and install the Android app so you can give Mike feedback and suggest improvements for the app.] What city, county, state or national government-related issue is important enough to you that you want to work to resolve or improve the issue? Look around your community -- what isn’t being done well? What isn’t being done at all, and would make life better for you or for citizens around you?

If you want ideas of other potential civic hacks for NE Wisconsin, four blog posts to look at are “Seed Projects For Civic Hackathons,” “Civic Hacking To Help Those In Need,” “DHMN Civic Hackathon/Appleton 2015: Top 10 Hacks,” and “Ideation Session For Non-Code-Focused Civic Hackers.”

Who Should Show Up:  Everyone who’s interested in civic hacking, or thinks they might be, should come to this event. If you are not familiar with civic hacking, listen to the Catherine Bracy TED video below, “Why Good Hackers Make Good Citizens.”

If you want to read more about what civic hacking is, scan through the titles of other posts from past months on this blog for ones that are of interest to you -- see the list of titles in the right column under Blog Archive.

Coders will enjoy the fun at the civic hacking meetup, but non-coders are also encouraged to participate, as discussed in “What Are Some Non-coder Activities In Civic Hacking?” and “Do Non-Programmers Participate In Civic Hacking?” There will be at least one person who's neither coder nor designer at the Nov 17 event; you definitely don’t need to be a coder to participate in civic hacking.

If you haven’t been at a civic hacking meetup before, no worries. We’ll bring you up to speed and answer your questions about civic hacking. This is a participant-driven event, and we’d love to have YOUR participation.

What Should I Bring:  The main things to bring are (1) yourself, (2) friends or acquaintances who might enjoy civic hacking, (3) smartphone, tablet or laptop if you want to look at websites or code related to civic hacking, and (4) willingness to listen and share your two cents’ worth about which civic hacks are worthwhile and interesting to work on.

As always, if you have civic hacking questions or suggestions, email Bob Waldron at bwaldron (at) gmail [dott] com.

Hope to see you on the evening of November 17, 2015!


Monday, October 19, 2015

Day After Report -- Oct 17 Civic Hacking Meetup

This is the ‘Day After Report,’ even though it’s being published on the second day after the recent NE Wisconsin civic hacking event at the Appleton Makerspace...

Good progress was made on the recycling / trash and municipal API projects at the October 17, 2015, Saturday civic hacking meetup. It was a small group, with six people participating between the start and finish of our meetup. Mike P opened up the makerspace before 9 AM and got signs up and the space ready for hacking. Most of the civic hackers arrived by 10 AM, a couple left at various points during the day. The all-day diehards decided they reached a good stopping point around 6 PM. If we’d been in the middle of working on an interesting problem when supper time rolled around, we probably would have gotten our traditional delicious spinach deep dish pizza, but I guess that will be saved for next time.

Shane Grey was the only participant who hadn’t previously been at a civic hacking event. He’s a highly knowledgeable coder and general hacker, and he understands the general concept of civic hacking. So onboarding him consisted primarily of giving him an overview of civic hacks he might want to consider working on. We explained to Shane the recycle-trash civic hacks the group has worked on, the crime data scraping Zach Gohr did, the GTFS (General Transit Feed Specification) work Mark Nickel is doing, and some other general civic hack topics. We also discussed Citygram and similar apps that can be done either with support of your city government or as a grassroots citizen project without needing official city involvement or endorsement.

Civic Hacking Activity on October 17th

Mike Rosack led the work related to his Civic Hack API Locator (the GitHub DHMN repository for the Locator is here). He, Mike Putnam and Chris Jaure had lots of discussion about the best way to develop the municipal APIs, the API locator and the apps using the municipal APIs. Having those in-person discussions is one of the benefits of the civic hacking meetups. ‘Discussions’ occur on Slack, in IRC and through other communication channels, but there are still real world benefits from having coders in the same physical room when designing or refactoring their code that has to play
well with others. Mike R wrote this summary for his October 17 work:
I worked with Mike [P] on getting the Civic Hack locator integrated into the recycling week android app, and with Chris [J] on getting the locator integrated into the web version.  Things are looking really good, and hopefully we'll have the locator integrated into all 3 frontends (Android/Pebble/web) soon, which means we just need to keep finding more people to write APIs to provide data for more cities!
If you’re willing to poke around at the Civic Hack API Locator, Mike is interested in getting lots of feedback on it. He said, “I want to get the documentation to a point where it definitely makes sense to a technical user, and almost sorta makes sense to a non technical user. I don't think i'm close yet.” If you want to give Mike your feedback, post it in the #dhmncivichacks channel on the NE Wisc Slack team (click here to join that Slack team if you’re not a member of it yet).

Mike Putnam, the Patient Zero of NE Wisconsin civic hacking, seemed to enjoy learning new ways to look at and code his “Is it recycling week?” Android app, a la IIRW (the GitHub DHMN repository for the app is here). This is Mike P’s October 17 civic hacking meetup overview:
I worked with Mike R. on porting the "Is it recycling week?" Android app over to use the newer API Locator. This will allow the Android app to function in *ANY* municipality that joins in the fun and adheres to the API locator protocol. New additions being worked on include Greenville and Outagamie county. Chris Jaure did similar work (but his is actually done) on the "Is it recycling week?" Web app.
Chris Jaure continued developing his Is It Recycling? web app (the GitHub DHMN repository for the web app is here) and improving the interoperability for Outagamie County data with the municipal API locator. Chris also committed my first pull request for the Hacktoberfest promo -- Thanks, Chris! His report of the October 17 event is as follows:
In addition to upgrading the web app to use the api locator as Mike [P] mentioned, I also worked with Mike R on setting up the Outagamie County api server and adding it to the api locator. Next step for me is to get all the zip codes supported by the Outagamie County data I have and register it under those. Right now it's just registered under 54130.”
Mark Nickel spent some time on GTFS to better understand what can be done with the GTFS data set provided by the city of Appleton for the Valley Transit buses and with GTFS in general.

I did research on other recycle and trash pickup apps and civic hacks to list in a civic hacks directory. The recycle-trash civic hack ecosystem is my first focus for the directory I’ve written about in previous posts. In addition, I did a couple minor updates to the GitHub registry of NE Wisconsin civic hacks.

Several of the civic hackers decided to participate in Digital Ocean’s Hacktoberfest t-shirt promo. All you have to do is register for the promo, then open four pull requests on any GitHub-hosted open source project(s) of your choice by October 31st. I did two pull requests and plan to work on the other two this week. One of the civic hackers registered and did his first of four pull requests at the start of the event. He then proceeded to make a bunch of code changes during the day for which he could have submitted the remaining three requests -- but because he could commit the changes, he kept forgetting to submit the pull requests needed to fulfill the Hacktoberfest requirement. So if you want the Hacktoberfest shirt, you might consider submitting your pull requests to repositories for which you can’t commit the code!

Next Steps & Continual Improvement
  1. Identify high priority work for recycle / trash pickup civic hacks ecosystem. Known items are:
    1. Mike P has changes he want to do on Android IIRW.
    2. We need more Android phone owners to install IIRW, use it, and give feedback to Mike P for app improvements.
    3. NE Wisconsin recycle-trash civic hacks need to find an iOS developer who will do an iOS IIRW (residents of Appleton have said they'd use IIRW if there was an app for their iPhone).
    4. “Is it recycling week?” is designed as a single-purpose, very low maintenance app, so it’s worth forking IIRW or creating a second recycle-trash app with additional features like Olathe Trash Day and other ReCollect Systems recycle-trash apps.
    5. Consider getting recycle-trash pickup companies involved to discuss GPS and knowing when the pickup truck is in your neighborhood.
  2. Identify remaining work for municipal APIs.
    1. The AppletonAPI , Greenville API and Outagamie API need to be joined by APIs for other cities and counties in NE Wisconsin for maximum impact and benefit.
    2. Feedback is needed from new people, technical and non-tech, regarding the Civic Hack API Locator, so Mike R can fix bugs not obvious to him and improve the UX. Providing feedback on the Locator can be a good first 'civic hacking' activity for future first-time participants in NE Wisconsin civic hacking events.
    3. NE Wisconsin needs to reach out to other civic hackers, like those involved with Code for America or companies like Accela, to figure out how to best improve the impact of NE Wisconsin municipal APIs and the API locator. The Open Civic Data project’s US Municipal Scrapers on GitHub and a City API Discoverability ‘post’ on GitHub both point to the value of connecting with other people working on the usefulness and discoverability for municipal APIs. 
  3. Mike and Mike both felt that a good Next Step is to identify one or a couple interesting new civic hack topics to start working on at upcoming civic hacking events. There are many features or complementary apps that can be developed in the recycle-trash ecosystem, but these guys are both at a point where they’d like to work on something that’s not garbage. There’s a whole cornucopia of civic hack opportunities out there, as mentioned in “Seed Projects For Civic Hackathons,” “DHMN Civic Hackathon/Appleton 2015: Top 10 Hacks,” and other posts on this blog. Maybe they’ll come up with a
    completely new hack topic which I hadn’t previously mentioned. They, and maybe a few other civic hackers, just have to have a conversation about which hacks are feasible in NE Wisconsin and are also interesting to them. Maybe the next NE Wisconsin civic hacking meetup will lean more heavily toward the yakking side of ‘yakking and hacking.’ We’ll get some Moon Man and Great White beer, some Mountain Dew and Coke, and whatever other beverages and healthy snacks are enjoyed by the people who participate in the meetup. Then we’ll bounce ideas around to see if we can identify one or two civic hacks to put some serious brainpower and time into.

Hope to see you at the next NE Wisconsin civic hacking event!


Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Civic Hacking Meetup This Saturday, Oct 17th

Calling all NE Wisconsin civic hackers and others interested in learning about or doing a bit of civic hacking! There will be a civic hacking meetup this coming Saturday, October 17, 2015, at the Appleton Makerspace in Appleton, Wisconsin, USA. It's free, it's fun, and it's for YOU!

TIME:  The meetup will start at 9 AM. If you haven’t been to a civic hacking event and can roll out of bed early enough on a Saturday, it will be good if you can show up at 9 AM. But no worries if you come later as your schedule allows. This will be an informal day of civic hacking; no agenda. No definite end time, either; we’ll go as long as people are having fun, which probably means at least until 5 PM, and maybe until midnight! You can check the #dhmncivichacks channel on the NE Wisconsin Slack website during the day to see if the event is still in progress and what the civic hackers are working on during the event. Click here to join this Slack team if you’re not already a member. You can also check out the makerspace webcams to confirm people are still present and hacking...

PARTICIPANTS:  Everyone is welcome. This is a participant-driven event, so the people who show up will be the one responsible for making the event interesting, fun and worthwhile. You don’t need to be a programmer / coder to be a civic hackers -- see “What Are Some Non-coder Activities In Civic Hacking?” and “Do Non-Programmers Participate In Civic Hacking?” for ideas of what non-coders can work on for civic hacks.

FOOD / BEVERAGES:  As far as I know, there aren’t any announced sponsors yet for food or beverages for the Oct 17 meetup. It’s an all-day event, so for those people who stay for more than an hour or two, we’ll probably do a combination of bringing food to share with the group, bring our personal morning munchies / noon lunch / supper fixin’s, pitch in money for a shared meal, like pizza from Stucs or whatever other food people are interested in. At BarCamp Milwaukee two weeks ago, most of the participants brought at least one type of food to share, both munchies and main dishes, and we had a couple tables full of food and beverages. Fun and delicious!

If you know potential sponsors for a civic-minded event like this, ask them if they’ll cover the costs for some food or various beverages. If you’ve got the time and interest, whip up a batch of cookies, brownies, healthy snacks, or main dishes. And if don’t want to totally rely on potential sponsors, participant-prepared-potstickers, or the virtues of fasting, bring along some money, and you’ll be all set.

HACKING ACTIVITIES:  We’ll start out with self-introductions to make sure all the civic hackers know each other and what people are planning to work on or want to learn on October 17. For first-time civic hackers, we’ll cover the basics, answer questions you have about civic hacking and get you up to speed with Slack, GitHub and other tools of the trade. If you don’t know what those are, no worries. You will by the end of the day! And it’s all free! What a deal… :)

We’ll be working on updates, bug fixes, and improvements to civic hacks that were worked on at past hackathon/meetups. Mike Putnam will be there leading the charge again on civic hacks related to the AppletonAPI and the “Is It Recycling Week?” Android app he wrote (IIRW). We’re hoping to also have a bunch of other people who showed up at the June 6th hackathon or the other two civic hacking meetups in July and August.

I’m hoping we’ll have one or several people working on an iOS version of IIRW. A number of NE Wisconsin residents have said they’d like to use IIRW but can’t because they have an iPhone. I couldn’t talk them into trading in their iPhone for an Android, so we’ll just have to get someone to create an iOS IIRW.

For those participants interested in it, we’ll have discussion or learning sessions for GitHub, Python data scraping, Azure, Firebase, or other civic hacking tools and techniques. The learning sessions will be led by either participants knowledgeable about the session topic or by participants willing to take advantage of the well known You-Learn-Best-By-Teaching principle.

If any participants are interested in a reason to learn about or become more active on GitHub, we can get everyone up to speed on the Digital Ocean Happy Hacktoberfest. It appears all one has to do to get this delightful pre-shrunk, tri-blend limited-edition Hacktoberfest t-shirt is open four pull requests on any GitHub-hosted open source project(s) of your choice by October 31st. If you don’t have a GitHub account, we’ll help you create one, and if you don’t have a clue what a pull request is, someone at the makerspace will help you figure that out, too! If anyone knows of other freebie / swag deals like the Digital Ocean one above, bring that info along to the Oct 17 civic hacking event. Thanks!

WHAT SHOULD I BRING:  The main things to bring are (1) yourself, (2) friends or acquaintances who might enjoy civic hacking, (3) laptop and charger (or other tools for the type of civic hacking you want to work on), and (4) willingness to either lead a civic hack project or work on someone else’s civic hack project. If you're going to stay all day, you might want to skim through “Last Minute Prep & What To Bring To Hackathon.” Check out “Day-After Report: DHMN Civic Hackathon/Appleton 2015” for some idea of what was worked on during the June 6 hackathon.

Hope to see you at the Appleton Makerspace (mini-map at this link), 121R B North Douglas St, Appleton, WI 54914, on October 17!