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!


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