Thursday, November 19, 2015

Day-After-After Report -- Nov 17 Civic Hacking Meetup

tl:dr -- below are 9 points discussed on Nov 17; skip directly to numbered items for quick overview.

This post is a short summary of what happened at the NE Wisconsin civic hacking meetup on November 17, 2015, at Bazil’s Pub in Appleton, Wisconsin, USA.

For those who wondered, day-after-after is akin to antepenultimate.

‘Day-of’ summaries are coverage provided on the same day an event happens. Day-after reports are written on the first day after an event occurs. Day-after-after reports are done by undisciplined non-journalists who are overwhelmed by life’s many commitments (or who don’t plan well enough and don’t have sufficient willpower) and end up writing an event summary two days after the event ended.

I’d love to see a day-of report for every participant-driven events I’m involved with, such as civic hackathons and BarCamps. But that requires a person dedicated to storytelling, someone who has the willpower and insight to keep themselves from becoming fully engaged and immersed in the event. Someone who observes the big picture of what’s happening instead of becoming fully engaged in the conversation about how a Facebook-connected civic hack might work, or the discussion at a BarCamp session about gamification of corporate business processes. I enjoy those conversations and discussions too much to be an effective day-of storyteller.

As a result, one of my goals for BarCamp Green Bay (BCGB) 2016 is to invite (which is sometimes spelled r-e-c-r-u-i-t) storytellers to that event. I’d like to have one of the Top Ten Themes of BCGB 2016 be storytelling, which will include many related topics such as videography, photography, documentaries, and indie filmmaking. With a bit of luck and planning, some of the storyteller-participants, in addition to participating in BCGB sessions, will also do day-of reporting for the event.

But I digress…

Here is my November 19 day-after-after list of what happened at the November 17 meetup of NE Wisconsin civic hackers.

  1. Incomplete Success. We didn’t successfully identify an agreed-upon civic hack topic for the Recycle Mafia (Mike, Mike, Chris, Ross, et al.) to tackle as a successor to the multiple hacks related to the AppletonAPI which Mike Putnam created and unveiled earlier in 2015. But we did have interesting conversations about possible topics for a successor hack.
  2. Facebook Leverage. It was felt there is high potential for a civic hack that somehow leverages Facebook (FB), primarily because of how many people are reported to use FB and how enthusiastically some people use it. Unfortunately, the Garbage Kings Gang doesn’t currently have a Facebook ninja, so we probably need to recruit someone who is both a prolific FBer and interested in civic hacking. Research will also be done to locate existing civic hacks that leverage FB.
  3. Hack Ecosystem. A desired aspect of the civic hack successor is that the successor have clear potential for the same sort of complementary hack ecosystem as the CityAPI-RecycleWeek hack family. Mike Putnam wrote the AppletonAPI hack, which led to the “Is it recycling week?” (IIRW) Android app, GreenvilleWI API, Civic Hack API Locator, Pebble Watch IIRW app, IIRW web app, Outagamie County API and work on other related hacks. It would be nice if another topic or theme can be identified that will spawn numerous complementary civic hacks.
  4. FB RecycleHacks. Ignoring all common sense and established grammar rules of the last millenium, and using FB as a verb, it was discussed that we should probably FB the NE Wisconsin ecosystem of recycle and cityAPI hacks. In upcoming weeks, we’ll explore how FB can be used to make more NE Wisconsin residents aware of these civic hacks and to get more people using the hacks, e.g. the IIRW Android app.
  5. Data Emancipation. Helping cities and other government units get their public data online in a structured, accessible format (like JSON/XML/CSV, not PDFs, HTML needing to be scraped, or proprietary document formats) was another discussion topic. Cities have limited budgets, project priorities and, sometimes, limited experience with data formats and retrieval methods like setting up a REST API or enabling JSON or XML output formats on a particular database platform. One way to enable development of more NE Wisconsin civic hacks might be for civic hackers to offer their assistance in emancipating public data which is not civic hacker-friendly. Here are definition links for the acronyms mentioned:
    1. * JSON - Javascript Object Notation - a common/preferred data format in mainstream use. A very large ecosystem of open source software and people exists that can leverage this data format.
    2. * XML - Extensible Markup Language - a common but less desirable data format (JSON was created as a reaction to the complexity/verbosity of XML) Still serviceable, smaller ecosystem, prevalent in 'enterprise' environments.
    3. * CSV - Comma Separate Values - a simple data format that, failing the availability of the previous two options, can serve as an easy way to deliver public data online. Database platforms, and spreadsheet programs can produce CSV files. Very low barrier to success.
    4. * REST API - Representational State Transfer Application Programming Interface - a really confusingly named way of saying "pass around data over the web" only instead of being made up of web pages readable by humans, made up of data formats that software can use.
  6. Resident Requests. One way to decide what civic hacks to work on is to figure out what resident requests, complaints or questions (RCQs) are most common in NE Wisconsin. Another way to say this is, “What city-related information would be most helpful to or appreciated by residents if a civic hack was built to make that info easier to find or easier to understand?” The challenge with this concept is that we civic hackers have no idea how to discover what those most common RCQs are. If each NE Wisconsin city and county had a comprehensive open311 system and a record of the open311 top 3 RCQs for the past 3 years. Although maybe that's too many 3s... What we'll probably need to do to identify common RCQs is talk to a lot of different NE Wisconsin city employees to learn what data is available for this topic.
  7. NextGen API-Locator. Mike Rosack’s Civic API Locator appears to have huge potential, and we haven’t even started to scratch the surface of that potential. Mark Boyd’s City-API-Discoverability GitHub repository discusses the issue of making it easier to find city APIs. We’ll try to connect with Mark, the US Census Bureau, coders in Rio Grand Valley, and others interested in this issue, like Code for America (CfA), to figure out where Mike’s Civic API Locator fits in the scheme of global civic hacking and how to best improve it, let more people know about and get more people using it.
  8. Civic Hackathon. It appears the next CfA national CodeAcross event will be on March 5, 2016. Click here for a bit of info on CodeAcross 2015. We’ll facilitate discussions in the next couple weeks about this 2016 date and event, but there’s a strong possibility we’ll target that date for a NE Wisconsin civic hackathon of the same general flavor as the NE Wisconsin June 6, 2015 civic hackathon. Location, agenda, partners and sponsors for a March 2016 NE Wisconsin CodeAcross hackathon to be determined...
  9. EdCamp Fox Valley. There was a short discussion at Bazil's about EdCamp Green Bay 2015, a K12 education unconference which happened on the same day as BarCamp Green Bay 2015, a technology unconference. It’s a small world after all… In a follow-up to the EdCamp Green
    Bay discussion on November 17, Mike Putnam discovered EdCamp Fox Valley and sent me a link to the event. Civic hackers, BarCampers, TIME community members (Tech, Innovators, Makers, Entrepreneurs) and other interested potential EdCampers are welcome to register for the February 6, 2016, EdCamp Fox Valley. The lead organizer for EdCamp Green Bay told me, “I would say without a shadow of a doubt that any edcamp organizer would love to have community members and parents present. Everyone should have a voice in public education, and it is also a cool opportunity to learn both ways - you can learn about what is happening in our schools (especially relative to the fields you contribute to) and we can learn from you about the mythical "real world" we like to talk about but haven't really been a part of!” Watch for a future post about EdCamp Fox Valley on the myDigitechnician blog.

Note to participants of November 17 civic hacker meetup: If I left out any discussion topics or Next Steps from this week’s meetup, please send me an email with your recollection of that, and I’ll update this post with that info.

If questions or a desire to get involved with any of the above, contact Bob Waldron -- bwaldron (at) gmail [dott] com.


Saturday, November 14, 2015

Civic Hacking In The News: November 14, 2015

Below are a few civic hacking news items, but first, here's a comment about civic hacking activity in NE Wisconsin.

In the past couple months, I have published posts less frequently than during the first five months of this blog. Posts were written daily during the first five months for two reasons. The first reason was to cover many of the different topics involved with civic hacking. The second reason was to promote and connect the civic hacking community of NE Wisconsin.

Because of the midwest culture of NE Wisconsin and because people who are potential civic hackers in this region are often not well-connected with each other, our civic hacking community growth has plateaued. Frequent posts have less value during a period of slow community growth. Until the community connects with a CATALYST, the number of active civic hackers in the area will grow slowly, and we’ll likely continue to meetup every four to six weeks.

The catalyst who helps the region's civic hacking community grow significantly could be:
  • A teacher who is enthusiastic about getting K-12 students and teachers involved with the world of civic hacking.
  • A well-connected person in a large technical member-based organization who decides to promote civic hacking and gets many of the organization’s members actively involved.
  • A well-connected person in Green Bay, Oshkosh, Fond du Lac, De Pere, Sheboygan or another fairly large city in NE Wisconsin who chooses to kickstart civic hacking activities in their area.
  • A social media maven or marketing person who’s interested in the topic of civic hacking and wants to expand the NE Wisconsin civic hacker community.
  • A skilled coder (or a few of them) who develops a cool civic hack that gets a lot of traction and brings higher visibility to civic hacking in NE Wisconsin.
  • Civic hacking enthusiasts at one or several NE Wisconsin colleges and universities who promote the topic, help connect interested students, and maybe host or sponsor civic hacker activities on or near the campus.
  • A CEO or other influential person who gets excited about civic hacking and works at a NE Wisconsin company that has many coders or other potential civic hackers.
  • One or several NE Wisconsin influential city government people who launch a civic hacking initiative after learning about good things civic hacking can do for cities and the region’s residents.
  • Are YOU a civic hacking catalyst?
  • An influential NE Wisconsin individual who decides civic hacking is a good thing for our area and jumps in to connect resources and people to boost our civic hacking to the next level.

If any of the above catalysts read this post, please contact me at bwaldron (at) gmail [dott] com and we'll discuss how you can help expand and strengthen the NE Wisconsin civic hacking community!

Here are four recent articles and posts about civic hacking. If they sound like something you want to know more about, click the headline links and read them in their entirety. If you want more civic hacking news, check out the links in “Top 10 Sites For Civic Hacking News.”

A More Verdant Civic Process
Laurenellen McCann
“...Remember: democracy is a form of government that people create collectively. Who’s directly involved in that creation and whose involvement is assumed by proxy—by people acting on their behalf—changes how the system works...there is a lot out there that civic tech can learn from...this first phase of research I conducted focused on exploring collaboration in technology: projects like ELECTricity and others that develop through community direction and in response to expressed, collective needs. Projects that serve public good, whether or not they identify themselves as “civic tech.” Last week, during a workshop I held on this research at this year’s Code for America Summit, we released a book with our findings: Experimental Modes of Civic Engagement in Civic Tech (Meet People Where They Are). You can download a free PDF of the book here or buy the paperback version on Amazon. Experimental Modes is our first attempt to answer the question “what does it mean to build with, not for?” in a nuts and bolts way, based on the real experience of practitioners who do the work...”
Civic hackers and civic leaders in NE Wisconsin may want to check out Laurenellen McCann’s book to find out how civic hacking is solving problems and improving citizen’s lives in other parts of the country.

Exploring Durham Public Schools with Ease
When Alex Lemann, 32, started thinking about raising a family and buying a home in Durham, he was amazed to find that there was no single website where he could find all the public-funded schools — neighborhood, magnets and charters — on a map. Much less understand the different zoning complexities or compare schools in any way. As a member of Code for Durham, a local volunteer group of civic technologists and community advocates, he brought this challenge to the group. We believe all citizens deserve the best user experiences possible when it comes to getting information about tax-funded services, regardless of one’s views on education policy. So we took a second look. Many months and Github commits later, Code for Durham is proud to present the alpha release of Durham’s School Navigator @”
If parents with young kids or educators get involved with civic hacking in NE Wisconsin, one hack they might want to start with is a copy, or fork, of School Navigator from Durham. Other cities have built similar tools for ‘exploring schools.’ Because most of these tools are open source, we can quickly create a copy of the source code and start adapting it for use here. If someone wants to work on this type of civic hack, we’ll research the topic and evaluate which education hack appears to best-suited for our region.

Hackathon winner's app will help users "Explore Hampton Roads"
In about six months, anybody with a smartphone or laptop will be able to compare crime data, cost of living, restaurant inspections and maybe school test scores for just about any location in Hampton Roads with a few taps on a new app and website. "Explore Hampton Roads" will let users easily use control bars to break out information on certain types of crime, housing prices, restaurant inspections and other data. Color changes will show how those things overlap, and to what degree. It'll be free, courtesy of a team of software developers who collected $15,000 on Saturday after winning "Best in Show" at a two-day hackathon. The group was one of 11 teams that competed to develop new software that would benefit the region...”
As I mentioned in the post “NE Wisconsin Corporate Partners And Sponsors For Civic Hacking,” if we can line up partners and sponsors for a regional civic app challenge, we might end up with new worthwhile civic hacks and a much larger civic hacking community in NE Wisconsin. If anyone is interested in working to make this type of challenge happen, please contact me. We can look at the Hampton Roads event, as well as the Western New York and other civic app challenges.

Thinking Small on Civic Tech
The original idea of Government as a Platform is now almost a decade old. In the world of technology, that’s a long time...But in 2015 what does Government as a Platform actually look like, and what should it look like going forward into the future?...The idea of Government as a Platform – originally built on the idea of open government data – has become almost synonymous with Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). APIs are an important part of how modern software is developed, and have been for some time. Building APIs, and the accompanying tools to use them, are at the core of what most governments aspire to put in place to support the development of civic apps...Open data portals provide a central location for governments to publish data so that it may be
more easily obtained by third parties wishing to use it...these data portals almost always provide some sort of API access to data – so by publishing data to an open data portal, governments are creating APIs for developers to start using that data to build civic apps. An overview of how Government as a Platform typically manifests can be seen in the graphic below...”
This article will probably be of most interest to civic hack coders and to city employees who deal with public information databases or are highly interested in leveraging civic hacking for their city. One of the central themes or benefits of tech platforms is that they allow interested people to use the platform to build products and services, even if those people aren’t part of the organization that created and maintains the platform. In the case of civic hacking, the city, county, state or country builds a platform of open data. When there is no interest or awareness on the part of the government officials or employees, civic hackers can build the APIs. Civic hackers then use those APIs or platforms to build useful or interesting products. Because of lack of funding or tech expertise, these products would not be generated by the government, but the government or citizens often find them worthwhile.

Maybe new civic hacking platforms would be beneficial to cities and counties in NE Wisconsin??

If you want to learn more about civic hacking or start getting involved with it, come to the next civic hacker meetup in our region, at 7 PM on November 17 at Bazil's Pub in Appleton. Hope to see you there!


Monday, November 9, 2015

BarCamp Green Bay 2015: What Happened & What’s Next

This is a brief and necessarily incomplete summary of what happened at BarCamp Green Bay on November 7, 2015, at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College’s Corporate Conference Center in Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA.

I say “necessarily incomplete” because so many interesting and worthwhile conversations and sessions happen at BarCamps that no one person can give a comprehensive summary of them all. What I’m presenting here is mainly conversations and sessions in which I participated, along with a few ideas I’m thinking about or developing for BarCamp Green Bay 2016 and other future unconferences.

If you aren’t familiar with BarCamp technology unconferences, you might want to read “BarCamp Green Bay: BarCamps Have Participants, Not Attendees” and “9 Reasons BarCamp Green Bay Is For Civic Hackers,” read the Wikipedia entry for BarCamps, or do a Google search for specific aspects of BarCamps that would be of interest to you.

BCGB 2015 Participants (CC attribution Chris Schmitz)
There were 51 people who registered online for BarCamp Green Bay and a few BarCampers who didn’t register but were, nonetheless, welcome participants. As with most events, some registered people were unable to show up. We ended up with ~ 40 adult particpants. Eight to ten kids showed up for KidsCamp and appeared to enjoy the activities there. There were a few first-time BarCampers, but most were repeat Campers. Most repeaters had only been to Green Bay’s BarCamp, but some people had participated in BarCamp Fond du Lac, BarCamp Milwaukee or other midwest BarCamps.

The two main benefits of participating in a BarCamp are the interesting discussions, both during sessions and between sessions, and meeting new like-minded or complementary-minded people. We had four designated session locations and five session periods, each an hour long, so there were twenty potential slots for people to lead a session and for participants to choose from for learning and sharing info about topics of interest to them.

Other minor, but fun, benefits for participants were free BarCamp Green Bay 2015 shirts, event stickers, a little Omni Resources swag, and beverages and munchies throughout the day, including sub sandwiches for lunch and pizza for supper.

One of the frustrating aspects of a BarCamp is that although you have an opportunity to participate in many interesting sessions, there are always many more cool sessions which linear time prevents you from participating in. There ended up being nineteen sessions (I think), and if you led one session, you were only able to participate in four other sessions. This meant that you missed out on fun discussions at fourteen sessions!! Fortunately, if you heard about a session that sounded really fun, you could talk with the session leader or participants during meals or in the open time after supper. (Session grid picture below is missing session description sheets.)

BCGB 2015 session grid (CC attribution Matt Everson)
The sessions I participated in were about serious games/gamefication, emotional intelligence (or EQ rather than IQ) in business relationships (see Six Seconds), the dev stack used for building the BarCamp Green Bay website. My final session, which I co-led, was about what would make a BarCamp more worthwhile and how to end up with 150 - 200 people participating in next year’s BarCamp.

One regret I have is that I didn't have enough time to do a session on civic hacking! There were people at BCGB 2015 who were interested in finding out more about civic hacking. I invited them to the November 17 civic hackers meetup at Bazil's Pub in Appleton or other future NE Wisconsin civic hacking events.

If other BarCamp Green Bay participants take the time to write up a short summary of the sessions in which they participated (please ;), I’ll add them to this post, with attribution…

As a result of the sessions I was in and the conversations I had outside of sessions, I’ve got at least fifty posts topics I want to write about related to BarCamp Green Bay 2016. I’ll probably publish most of the BCGB 2016 posts on the myDigitechnician blog rather than on DHMN Civic Hacks, since many of the BCGB posts will have minimal ties specifically to civic hacking. But I’ll also put links to those posts here on DHMN Civic Hacks in case civic hackers want to bounce over to the other blog to read the BCGB posts.

My thanks to Chris Jaure and the sponsors for making BCGB 2015 possible! Thanks also to Mathew Peterson and others who helped with shirts, supplies, and setup for the event. And a big 'thank you' to all the participants who spent a few hours or the whole day at the event, helping make it fun, interesting and worthwhile for the other BarCampers. I’m still thinking about ideas I heard and discussed at BCGB 2015.

And I’m thinking about ways to help make BarCamp Green Bay 2016 even more worthwhile for 150 - 200 participants…

  • Identify topics of high interest to NE Wisconsin barcampers
  • Invite to BCGB 2016 people doing really interesting work on those high interest topics
  • Recruit videographers, social media, session facilitators and other key people to get involved with the BCGB 2016 prep and event
  • Focus on an even better KidsCamp (extra fun for kids & enables more parents to participate in BarCamp sessions)
  • Lots more!


Sunday, November 1, 2015

Civic Hacking: Fixing A Corrupted Democracy

Question:  “Does America have a government where someone who is not a billionaire or a major political figure can run as a Republican or Democratic candidate for national office?”

Based on the 2016 presidential race, it appears the answer to the above question is, “An American can’t participate in mainstream national politics if they’re not incredibly wealthy or incredibly well-connected in business and politics.

Lawrence Lessig: A Corrupted Democracy
In light of the above question and answer, I think both active and potential civic hackers in NE Wisconsin should consider spending time and energy on fixing a corrupted democracy.

The way I see it, the reasons for calling America a corrupted democracy are that:

  • People allowed to seriously run for national office aren’t chosen by voters. They’re chosen by the large funders of campaigns because those funders determine who is allowed into the Republican and Democratic party campaigns, (discussed starting at 8:35 in the “Fixing The Republic” video below).
  • National legislation isn’t affected by the opinions of voters. It’s only affected by opinions of large funders, (discussed starting at 10:30 in the “Fixing The Republic” video below)
  • Congress has defined the borders of congressional districts to maximize the number of ‘safe’ seats for Democrats and Republicans. Of the 435 seats in Congress, 345 are considered safe, meaning the next congressperson elected for that seat will almost certainly be from the same party as the current congressperson. This is called gerrymandering, and its only purpose is to help national politicians be re-elected. Both parties do it, and both parties want to continue to do it, (discussed starting at 16:00 in the “Fixing The Republic” video below).

Lawrence Lessig has launched a presidential campaign for the American 2016 elections. In the October 24, 2015, video below, “Fixing The Republic,” he explains his campaign platform, which features the goal to pass the Citizen Equality Act of 2017 as soon as possible after the elections (on the first day after inauguration or, at most, within a couple weeks.)

As of October 2015, Lawrence Lessig is trying to campaign for becoming the Democratic presidential nominee. The Democratic party is not allowing him to participate in the Democratic presidential debates, the American mainstream media is not providing press coverage as a Democratic candidate, and the (mainstream?) political polls are not including him as a Democratic candidate.

The October 20, 2015, video below, “Why Is The Democratic Party Afraid Of Larry Lessig?” discusses reasons he hasn’t been allowed to participate in Democratic presidential debates and why mainstream media and polls are not covering him.

If you watch the two videos above and agree with Lessig’s description of America as a corrupted democracy, you might be interested in how you can help get rid of that corruption. One way is to be a civic hacker working on the issues Lessig is focused on.

The purpose of this blog post is to encourage NE Wisconsin civic hackers to spend time and energy reducing American national politics corruption. NE Wisconsin civic hackers are invited to gather on November 17, 2015 at 7 PM at Bazil’s Pub at 109 W. College Avenue in downtown Appleton to discuss potential civic hacks to work on in upcoming weeks and months. I feel one worthwhile focus area is politics, with an initial civic hack project to address reducing American national politics corruption.

As I see it, listed below are the challenges to Lawrence Lessig becoming a recognized Democratic candidate, to him becoming elected, and to greatly reducing corruption in American national politics.

  1. Most of America doesn’t know who Lawrence Lessig is.
  2. Most of America doesn’t know what Lawrence Lessig’s campaign platform is.
  3. The DNC will not allow Lawrence Lessig to participate in the 2016 Democratic debates.
  4. American mainstream media will not provide coverage for the 2016 Lessig campaign.
  5. Most American citizens think the national political system is corrupt and should be changed.
  6. Most American citizens think the national political system can’t or won’t be changed.
  7. American national politicians have huge incentives to keep the corrupted national political system.

I agree with Lawrence Lessig that public funding of elections and elimination of gerrymandering must be done before other important national problems can be fixed. Civic hacking is often described as using a 21st century toolbox to fix problems you see in government. As Catherine Bracy says in her TED video, “It’s the idea that if you see a problem, you work to fix it, and not just complain about it.” Working to get rid of corruption in American national politics is unquestionably civic hacking.

If you want to know more about Lawrence Lessig’s fight against corruption in American national politics, check out his presidential campaign website and consider working on civic hacks that help combat the causes of that corruption.

If you live in NE Wisconsin and want to discuss what civic hacks we should work together on next, either political or nonpolitical, come to Bazil’s Pub in Appleton at 7 PM on Tuesday, November 17th. Hope to see you then!


For more info about civic hacks related to voting, see:

Part 1: Civic Hacks For Better Voting
Voting Hacks Part 2: New Voting App for Appleton
Voting Hacks Part 3: Examples of Civic Hacks For Better Voting

For ideas about civic hack topics not related to voting, see:

Seed Projects For Civic Hackathons
Civic Hacking To Help Those In Need
DHMN Civic Hackathon/Appleton 2015: Top 10 Hacks
Ideation Session For Non-Code-Focused Civic Hackers