Monday, August 31, 2015

“Dune” And Hacking The California Drought

Short post tonight. Was going to be longer, but other things came up. So I’ll just point out two issues related to civic hacking that were highlighted by an article about a Los Angeles civic hackathon.

During the LA 2015 hackathon held on the National Day of Civic Hacking, over 500 participants worked on hacking the California drought. Their focus on the drought and one of the civic hacks that came out of the hackathon reminded me of the science fiction book “Dune” by Frank Herbert.

Issue One:  Civic hacking will have the most value and the most citizen participation when it’s addressing a serious problem.

Issue Two:  Civic hacking will have the most value when there is widespread community support for the activity.

The article that prompted this post was “What Agencies Can Learn From the Frenzied Creative Blitz to End California's Drought.” The ‘agencies’ referred to in the title aren't government agencies, they're advertising agencies (which I’d consider part of the larger business sector of marketing companies). Here’s an excerpt from the article:
In June, our invention team here at Deutsch, in partnership with USC, Hack for L.A., Global Shapers and the City of Los Angeles, put on the city's first Futurethon—Saving Water—a 48-hour hackathon aimed at inventing solutions to hack the California drought...The turnout was impressive. The 500-person venue was standing room only and included everyone from students, teachers and farmers to advertising and technology professionals. Ages ranged from 13 to 73, and the buzz was palpable. 
Our track included 60 people and 14 teams...The challenge for the teams was to devise tech or marketing solutions that would do one of three things: help reduce water consumption, increase water recycling practices, or keep water consumption habits top of mind… 
The runner-up prize went to DewGood, an outdoor water condenser disguised as a
DewGood water condenser built at hackathon
solar-powered garden lamp. The lamp lowers air temperature, collects dew and waters plants in a 10- by 10-foot area. The team brought a 3-D printer to the event and built a working prototype
...”
Issue One:  A Serious Problem

Based on everything I’ve read and seen, the drought in California will be life changing for many people, communities and companies. It’s a problem that many government organizations and other groups are working to address. It was important enough to the general population that people from students to farmers to ad agency creatives worked together in a weekend civic hackathon. And continued working on their projects after the weekend.

Everyone in NE Wisconsin interested in civic hacking should think about what problems our region has that are worth bring people together to try and solve them. Think about what things bother you about our area, ask your neighbors what problems they’d like to see civic hackers tackle, talk to your city officials.

It’s challenging to get most people to work together unless there’s a significant problem that affects all of them. What are the biggest problems that cities, counties and civic hackers could tackle in the 18 counties of NE Wisconsin?

Issue Two:  Widespread Community Support

Warka Water tower in Ethiopia
The LA civic hackathon was sponsored by a global ad agency / marketing company, a major university, a Code for America brigade of civic hackers, one of the largest cities in the US, and Global Shapers, an initiative of the World Economic Forum which is funded by Coca Cola and many other global corporations. This was not an event sponsor just by Google, or Intel, or a group of technology companies. This had broad-based community support from diverse sectors of the economy.

To have maximum impact in NE Wisconsin, civic hacking will need the same type of widespread community support. Community leaders who know what the problems are and have to deal with them. Members of the community who have the problems that need fixing, so they can be part of the solution, not just have it handed to them, only to find out that it doesn’t work. A diverse group of business, educational and community organization partners and sponsors to support the civic hacking activities and solutions. For maximum effect, these groups and more need to be involved.

So the next time you have the opportunity to talk with someone about civic hacking, ask them what problems they think are worth working on. And ask them if they know any organizations that might be interested in supporting the people working to solve those problems.

-----------------------------------------------

For the science fiction fans, the issues faced by Californians in the current drought has prompted a number of articles and discussions about the living conditions, coping strategies and technologies on the fictitious desert planet Dune.


The second prize in the LA Hackathon, DewGood, may have reminded you of the water traps mentioned in “Dune.” If you’re interested in real world work on those types of devices, including the outdoor water condenser prototype built during the hackathon with the aid of a 3D printer, here are a couple links. If you want more, Google will be your guide.

Your lawn sucks... water. Join the DewGood Moisture Gardening movement.

This Tower Pulls Drinking Water Out of Thin Air 

Warka Water

To Save California, Read “Dune”

*****

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Tech Lady Hackathon and NE Wisconsin’s Community of Women Coders

Today’s civic hacking post was inspired by reading “Leah Bannon, Tech Lady Hackathon and DC’s community of women coders” and by in-person and email discussions I’ve had in the past six weeks with ‘tech women.’ The article about Leah Bannon highlights a few points about her journey in women-in-tech activities.
“...When founder Leah Bannon organized the first Tech Lady Hackathon in December 2013, she had just overcome her own reservations about being a technologist, and she wanted to help other women feel like they belonged. “I always thought like I wasn’t really tech enough,” Bannon said... 
Bannon began her journey into the tech world as a federal contractor at Booz Allen Hamilton...“I didn’t really like my job,” she said. So she began exploring various tech meetup groups, including Code for DC, of which she is now a co-captain... 
In August 2013, she attended a brunch with the Tech LadyMafia — a wildly popular email listserv...Bannon easily clicked with the group. “I made 10 friends that day,” she said. “It was a watershed moment in my life.” 
Soon enough, she joined Shannon Turner’s free beginner Python courses. She was one of the original “four women...around the kitchen table” at Hear Me Code’s first class in September 2013...”
If you want to read a little more about Leah, check out her Nextgov profile article.

Some of the points in this post may not seem directly relevant to civic hacking, but it’s my belief that when we expand and strengthen the tech community and the TIME community (Tech, Innovators, Makers, Entrepreneurs) in NE Wisconsin, we’re also expanding and strengthening the civic hacking community of the region. And by helping connect the region’s women involved in technology, we’re expanding the civic hacking and TIME communities.

The gender disparity in tech (politically correct way to say ‘not very many women in tech’) is a fairly well recognized and publicized issue in 2015. There are many reasons why it’s a bad thing to have women be such a low percentage of the people participating in technology fields and in civic hacking, but the purpose of this post isn’t to explain why it’s bad or why the percentage is low. If you want to know more about the ‘why’ of those two issues, a Google search will give you thousands or millions of hits for those topics, depending on your search terms. The purpose of this post is to suggest a few ways NE Wisconsin women might consider becoming more involved in tech activities throughout the region (not just the city they live in).

Most of the items below came directly from online articles about Leah Bannon, or are related to points in those articles. If the following fourteen aren’t enough for you, I’d got 100 more where those came from...

  1. Tech Lady Hackathon was initiated by one persistent person -- Leah Bannon. If there’s an unmet market need for a similar activity in NE Wisconsin, it’s worth one person’s time and energy to organize a similar here. Best result is that the hackathon is a rousing success and continues as an annual event for at least several years, or maybe many years. Worst case is that the people involved with organizing the event will have fun and will build a few new relationships.
  2. You don’t have to be a ninja coder, or even a coder, to get involved with technology or with civic hacking. When Leah Bannon started getting involved with tech activities, she didn’t feel “tech enough.” She even had her ex tell her she wouldn’t be good at coding, and her college degree was in geography. According to one article, she started teaching herself code when she was writing blog posts and wanted the webpage look different than the default settings allowed. She taught herself HTML (hypertext markup language), and was able to tweak the way her blog posts looked. Women in NE Wisconsin can follow the same path Leah did for learning to code and getting involved with or leading tech activities. She points out you don’t have to already be in tech to go to tech activities. “A lot of people think a tech meetup is for people who are already in tech. [But it’s] one of the best ways to learn the jargon and learn what’s going on and what’s interesting.” If you don't know of any tech events, consider participating in BarCamp Green Bay on November 7 (it's free, register today!).
  3. If you don’t currently earn your living as a coder but seriously want to start down that path, consider participating in Code Convoy in Green Bay on September 19, 2015. This free intro-to-coding event is for anyone age 18+ who wants to try out Web design or development as a potential career path. 
  4. Women who want to learn to code can do that completely on their own using a computer, hardcopy books (if they prefer ink on paper), online manuals, online tutorials and classes, videos, Stack Overflow and Google. For those who want to learn on their own but would like suggestions of good starting points, they can get recommendations from programmers they know, from Women In Technology Wisconsin, or from Mike Putnam, the organizer of Coder Cooperative at the Appleton Makerspace (mike@theputnams.net). And if some women don't have a computer to use, we can loan you a computer for free. Lack of money should not stop anyone from learning to code.
  5. If you want to participate in a group that meets weekly in Appleton “for the betterment of people endeavoring to learn and explore the domain of software development,” consider coming to a 7 - 9 PM Monday meeting of the Coder Cooperative in Appleton.
  6. If Women In Technology Wisconsin doesn’t have an email list serve (like the Tech LadyMafia mentioned above), a NE Wisconsin woman who thinks that’s a good idea should launch a new Google Group specifically for women-in-tech discussions.
  7. Tech women brunch -- consider organizing a few brunches for women in technology. You can also do Geek Dinners or Tech Breakfasts. I’ve organized both Geek Dinners and Tech Breakfasts, and every one of them has been a fun time and a great way to meet new people or strengthen relationships. You could even consider the Midwest version of Lunch 2.0, which started out with tech people informally meeting at various Silicon Valley company cafeterias for lunch. After a bunch of the informal lunches, the companies started sponsoring the lunches. Lunch 2.0 started about ten years ago, so it’s time for Wisconsin to give it a try! And Portland appears to still be doing Lunch 2.0, so it’s not like the concept totally faded away yet. If you want ideas for organizing a Geek Dinner or Tech Breakfast, I’d be happy to discuss that with you.
  8. Women learn-to-code groups -- Leah mentioned she was part of a learn-to-code class that started with just three other women. Someone in NE Wisconsin could just as easily organize a small group to meet regularly in their kitchen(s). Learn to code while deepening personal relationships through shared pain and common frustrations. :)
  9. Women-In-Tech Intro MiniWorkshops -- organize a half-day or full-day tech event with a series of 75 minute introductory workshops that expose women to current tech topics. Topics will depend on who you can line up for workshop leaders, but could include GitHub, Slack, Python, Blogging, HTML Tweaks For Hosted Blogs, Building A Website, Social Media Tips, SEO, DropBox, Google Docs, Open Source Software, 3D Printing, Arduino, Soldering, Robotics, and many more.
  10. Like Leah did, you can organize social events before or after tech events. If you get women together before a tech event, that ensures they’ll know someone else at the tech event. If you do a ‘post’ social event, it’ll be a chance to share frustrations or fun moments that happened, or just spend some time getting to know people you met at the tech event.
  11. Organize a NE Wisconsin panel discussion to generate a meaningful conversation about women-in-tech. If that overview panel discussion is well-received, consider organizing a series of follow-up panel discussions for high-interest topics. Rotate the panel discussion locations to different cities in the region, e.g. Green Bay, Appleton, Oshkosh, Fond du Lac, Sheboygan, etc.
  12. Invite Leah Bannon (or another high-visibility woman-in-tech) to a tech women event in NE Wisconsin. If her schedule or priorities don’t permit her to participate in an event here, ask her to connect you with three high-visibility tech women who might be part of an event here.
  13. Invite tech women from other parts of Wisconsin to connect with you or to participate in tech events in NE Wisconsin. 
  14. Build connections with tech women on every college campus in NE Wisconsin. There are ~20 colleges in the region, but you can start with just one campus near you and expand from there.

To me, Leah Bannon’s message is simply this:

If you want to get involved with technology, just start going to tech events, start teaching yourself whatever aspect of tech you’re interested in and start getting to know people who are involved in technology. If you want to help other women get involved in technology, start organizing tech events for women. Don’t wait for somebody else to do it. Everyone is busy, and if you don’t do it, maybe no one else will.

For more 'tech women in NE Wisconsin' ideas to consider, see my earlier post “Civic Hacking For Everyone, Part 1: Women.”

One goal for the next NE Wisconsin civic hacking event is to have a good mix of women and men participate in the event. Each of the 12 people who were at the August meetup should focus on promoting the next event (in September?) to women who might enjoy being civic hackers!

If you have questions about any of the above items or have more suggestions for me to add to the list, email me at bwaldron (at) gmail [dott] com.

*****

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Civic Hacking In The News: August 29, 2015

This August 29, 2015, post is excerpts from a few recent items relevant to civic hacking. If they sound like something you want to know more about, click the headline links and read the source articles.

What We Learned from Launching the City Accelerator Guide
In January 2015, we packaged our early lessons from the first City Accelerator Cohort into a Guide for Embedding Innovation in Local Government, and learned "what works" about sharing knowledge in real-time. One of our key objectives at Living Cities, is to help cities across the country apply some of the most promising practices bubbling up in places like Boston’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, or the Albuquerque Mayor’s Office and Innovation Teams from New Orleans to Tel Aviv... 
The City Accelerator Guide for Embedding Innovation in Local Government (the Guide), authored by Nigel Jacob...articulates our evolving thinking about how to build an enduring culture and practice of local government innovation. The content...offers practical action steps and helpful examples for local government officials to adapt and adopt...we saw the guidebook as a tool which could make it easier for cities to build an enduring culture and practice of innovation...”
For many reasons, NE Wisconsin will never have the level of tech innovation found in northern California or in large cities like Seattle, Boston, Austin, or even Kansas City. But there is no good reason I know of that cities in our region shouldn’t learn from areas that are working hard to build “an enduring culture and practice of innovation.” If you’re interested in this, you should look at the City Accelerator Guide linked above.

If the community and regional leaders in the 18 counties of NE Wisconsin want to work toward that type of culture and practice of innovation, there are lots of things they could do that wouldn’t cost much money. A starting point could be to organize and promote a series of regional meetups for people around the 18 counties who are interested in a culture and practice of innovation. The meetups should be followed by several NE Wisconsin innovation unconferences to bring interested people together to prioritize, develop and launch participant-driven regional innovation Next Steps. The only cost for all this would be providing the venues, a few office supplies like name tags, Sharpies and flipcharts, and the food and beverages for event participants. No paid speakers, no paid event managers, no expensive registration fees for participants. All that’s needed are visionary leaders in the region and interested ‘civic hackers’ who want NE Wisconsin to build a culture of resilient innovation. If those leaders decide that's worthwhile, they should provide the infrastructure support for the meetups and unconferences. We'd be happy to start things rolling...

No Assembly Required
Consider all of the work being done to provide recommendations for governments to use technology more efficiently and to become more open and transparent. There are countless examples where individuals that have developed expertise over many years of working to improve how governments use technology and data share their learnings and recommendations freely and openly. We don’t have a shortage of good ideas for governments to use to start making changes to how they use technology to build services and engage citizens. I think the primary [problem] is that not enough governments are using these recommendations, or they’re not using them quickly or effectively enough. 
I’ve spent a lot of time lately wondering why... 
I’m starting to think that much of this information is not in a format that is actionable by those in government who will need to make these changes. What seems to be missing are recommendations that are formatted for immediate action by legislators and other officials – policies that can be adopted by governments to become more open and more agile that require no assembly...Maybe its time for the civic technology community to more directly tailor its policy recommendations and advice for those in government that need to adopt them.”
There is no doubt in my mind that Mark Headd, the author of “No Assembly Required,” has defined one of the top reasons that cities aren’t more enthusiastically embracing open data and civic hacking. City employees and officials who can make open data and civic hacking happen don’t have enough time or money for the other things they were supposed to do before these new things came along. Many of them probably feel they don’t have time to figure out what open data and civic hacking are, much less whether it’s worth the cost. Others haven’t even heard of open data and civic hacking. Civic hackers of NE Wisconsin need to combine easily understood cost/benefits with effective marketing to make it easy for our city people to say yes to open data and civic hacking.

Map It: State of the Cities 2015
The National League of Cities...annual “State of the Cities” report...analyzes the content of mayors’ annual State of the City speeches. The report comes from 100 cities representing “a diverse cross section of population sizes and geographic regions...the NLC put its findings into a searchable dataset, topped with mapping visualization...clicking on individual cities gives you access to a link to the mayor’s speech (when available) and relevant quotes, as well as a detailed breakdown of the percent of the speech devoted to each of the 10 major issues...The hot-button economic development subtopic...was jobs: Seventy-three percent of speeches gave notable talk time to unemployment and jobs creation... 
Data and technology ranked seventh in the top ten issues addressed by the mayors. Open data got a lot of attention, including from open data champion Sly James, mayor of Kansas City, Missouri. Mayor James noted the ease with which citizens can now find the public data they need: “An information search that used to mean a trip to City Hall is now available online from anywhere in the world, virtually instantly.” He also celebrated the transparency gained from cities’ open data portals, pointing to the increased efficiency of democracy and greater citizen engagement...”
To me, this article points out two things regarding civic hacking. The first point is that civic hacking isn’t anywhere near the top of the US mayors’ priority lists (at least for political speeches, which means they don’t think citizens are interested in open data, technology or civic hacking). The second point is that open data and technology ARE in the top ten issues mayors are talking and thinking about. If this issue is important and being worked on in other cities around the country, cities in NE Wisconsin should at least be trying to understand if civic hacking has value for them. Another take-away from the article is that maybe civic hacking in our area should spend some time on the issue of unemployment and jobs creation.

The (Hidden) Cost of Open Data
Los Angeles County announced this January the creation of an open data website...to find information on a host of county government programs...While the data will be free to the public, the county will spend $319,000 in startup costs, and annual expenses are expected to cost an additional $287,000... 
Open data has become a big movement in state and local governments...Adoption of open data [policies] is linked to two powerful benefits. First, it makes government more transparent and understandable at a time when trust in the public sector has plummeted. Second, it has the potential to generate significant economic benefits. The consulting firm McKinsey has estimated open data’s economic potential at more than $3 trillion globally. 
Arnaud Sahuguet...wrote a blog post in which he listed some of the factors that can hide the true cost of open data: unexpected startup costs if data is kept in a legacy computer system that requires reformatting; quality-related costs to keep open data fresh and up-to-date; legal costs to comply with open data legislation; liability costs in case something goes wrong, such as publication of nonpublic information; and public relations costs that can occur when a jurisdiction generates bad press from open data about poor performance metrics or workforce diversity problems... 
Some jurisdictions...have focused on data that has high user participation rates and useful information, which can deliver economic value for startups and established businesses when they reuse data. Cities and states that do a careful analysis of which data sets have the most impact, both in terms of transparency and economic value, are less likely to be burdened by hidden costs down the road...”
Because I think transparency, open government, and civic engagement have worthwhile benefits, I feel civic hacking and open data are good things. Because I’m a fiscal conservative, I feel wasting taxpayer dollars is a bad thing. That means I don’t want NE Wisconsin to waste tax dollars while making more government data open and available for civic hacking.

Two ways to minimize budget waste on open data are (1) have three or four cities in the region be leaders in developing open data and collaboratively develop Cost-Effective Open Data guidelines for other cities in the region to use as a blueprint, and (2) create new open data sets one at a time, in a prioritized manner, while also developing a policy for how to set up new or updated data sets in open format. If those new and updated data sets are created in an open format, that will be much more cost-effective than later converting them from closed to open format.

‘Coding for community good’
NIU will host Huskie Hack from noon Saturday, Sept. 26, to noon Sunday, Sept. 27, in the Holmes Student Center. This free and interactive event is devoted to experiential learning, collaborative brainstorming and fun...Register now to become part of an interdisciplinary student team competing for prizes by creating mobile apps and developing web-based tools for local nonprofits and important social and service organizations. 
Civic hackathons provide a venue for self-expression and creativity through technology...For 24 hours, 350 students from around the world will use tech creativity to solve community issues while engaging in activities such as laser tag, a silent disco, yoga and more. Plus, plenty of energy drinks and lots and lots of food await. 
A variety of technologies will be available, such as Pebbles, Sparkcores, Leap Motions, Muse, Arduinos, Oculus Rifts, Myos, Amazon Fire Phones, Fitbits and other cool tools that students can check out and use in solving important social challenges...those who normally run from coding and technology should not worry: This event will bring the experts and encourages participants to learn, try, touch, participate and engage in active problem solving in a fun, non-threatening way...”
The Northern Illinois University ‘Huskie Hack’ civic hackathon in DeKalb, Illinois, sounds like an awesome time -- makes me wish I was a college student right now.

The NIU Huskie Hack participation requirements are: “You can participate as long as you're a college (Grad or Undergrad) or high school student.  A valid student ID is required at check-in. High school students will need to fill out a waiver prior to the event and bring a high school ID.”

I think NE Wisconsin should put together a road trip of college and high school students to compete in the 24-hour hackathon (Appleton to DeKalb is about 210 miles, 3 ½ hours). If a couple high school and college people want to quickly organize that road trip and need any help, I’d be happy to work with them as a way to build the civic hacking community of our region. If there’s no interest in an organized NE Wisconsin road trip, individual college and high school students should still consider heading down there on their own. You can indicate you’d like to catch a ride from UW Madison on an NIU-provided vehicle, but that’s sort of sketchy, since they don’t guarantee you a ride. Just something to consider...

It's probably too late for NE Wisconsin college students to organize a trip to the University of Pennsylvania for PennApps, the world's largest collegiate hackathon, which expects to have over 2000 participants. The reason I'm mentioning PennApps is that this year they're incorporating a track focused on civic hacking, highlighting the growing awareness of civic hacking as something both college students and government officials are interested in.

*****

Friday, August 28, 2015

More Civic Hackers In NE Wisconsin

I started writing a post about civic hacking and PDFs (portable document format computer files, but sometimes thought to be pretty disgusting format). While reading my fifth article about journalists and PDFs, I started thinking that we need to get journalists involved with civic hacking in NE Wisconsin. That led to thinking about how to connect with journalists and other groups of like-minded people with high potential or compelling reasons to be civic hackers. The PDF post got pushed to the wayside (temporarily) by my journalist musings...

Even though the title of this post is "More Civic Hackers In NE Wisconsin," the issue I'm writing about today isn't just getting more people involved in civic hacking, although that would be good too. I just couldn't come up with a title that appealed to me and conveyed 'getting more of the right people involved.' The real goal of this post is to get people from specific demographic groups involved because they will bring resources, skills, networks, and points of view which will make civic hacking in our region more valuable and effective.

The first question is, ‘what groups of people we should focus on for our communications, PR and personal invitations?’ The demographics that pop up in my mind are:

  1. Journalists
  2. Technologists
  3. Civic Activists
  4. Non-English Speakers
  5. Handicapped
  6. Students

Journalists

The abundance of articles about journalists and open data is an indicator of their interest in a topic highly relevant to civic hacking. Keeping governments transparent and accountable is a traditional role of media people, so they should be interested in making more government data open and meaningful to the general public. Having the Knight Foundation and the Nieman Foundation supportive of civic hacking is a good clue that journalists will have some level of interest in participating in civic hacking activities. And the reverse may be true -- civic hackers may want to support journalism activities. As Melody Kramer suggests,
“...Community members could receive one year of [NPR] station membership by remotely digitizing, tagging, and transcribing a certain amount of audio or video material that would allow stations to resurface their existing archives and generate new revenue streams...Stations could partner with existing civic hacking organizations or developer bootcamps in their communities to create maps and interactives for reporting projects, like this Election Night map that was created by the civic tech group Code for DC in conjunction with WAMU. Stations could offer to host these groups and extend year-long memberships to them for contributing their skills and expanding the reach of a station’s reporting...”
Technologists

For lack of a better term, I’m using the word ‘technologist’ to describe people who use and enjoy technology. Since technology, especially computing technology, is involved in many civic hacks, there are a variety of reasons for this group to be involved with civic hacking.

  • Personal benefit -- they can use their technology skills to have fun (a) fixing a problem, (b) being part of a like-minded community, (c) learning new skills, or (d) working toward making money from civic tech.
  • Altruism -- through the use of their tech skills, they can make the community a better place by solving government related problems and lack of adequate government funding for people with leading edge tech knowledge.
  • Subversion -- with technology they can expose bad government to the light of day -- and sometimes even fix it!

Most of the people currently involved in NE Wisconsin civic hacking are technologists, partly because the activity appeals to them and partly because I knew and invited a lot of technologists to the June 6 civic hackathon. A participant-driven event will reflect the personal and professional networks of the participants who are organizing and actively promoting the event. BarCamp Fond du Lac was first organized by a librarian, so many of the participants in the first BarCamp FDL were library people, and many of the sessions were about library topics. Because of this tendency, we also need to get people involved in civic hacking from the other five demographics listed in this post.

Although a few technologists in NE Wisconsin are aware of civic hacking, my guess is that 95+% of the region's tech people are not. It would be great to get a few people enthusiastically evangelizing, or at least making fellow technologists aware of civic hacking in the Northeast Wisconsin Developers Users Group (NEWDUG) and Women in Technology Wisconsin, as well as figuring out ways to publicize the events among technologists who aren’t part of organized technology groups.

Civic Activists

It seems like civic activists are a natural fit for civic hacking activities, but I don’t have any good ideas for how to connect with civic activists or for making sure they are aware of the NE Wisconsin civic hacking activities. If you have suggestions about how to do that, please show up at our next meetup or hackathon to discuss your ideas and maybe develop a Next Step or two for getting this demographic involved.

Multilingual And Non-English Speakers

Well, I know ONE thing for sure. The residents of NE Wisconsin who don’t speak English are going to get less out of my blog than do the six people who occasionally stop by to read it. The reason I list non-English speakers as a target group is because most of the government websites and documents in our region are in English. If there’s not a government regulation requiring multi-lingual versions of websites and documents, civic hacking seems like a reasonable alternative to make the most useful parts of that information available to a non-English speaking audience. The people with the biggest incentive to have non-English versions of government information are people who don’t speak English, people whose family members don’t speak it well, or people who work a lot with the issue of non-English speakers. Civic hacks related to non-English government info will largely depend on having multilingual and non-English speaking people participate in our events.

Handicapped People

This is pretty much the same situation as non-English speakers. People who are most interested in widespread handicapped access in our communities and solutions to government-related handicapped problems are handicapped people, people whose family members are handicapped, or people who work a lot with handicapped issues. To build a cadre of people working on handicapped-relevant issues, we need to get those first two or three people who will have personal or professional networks concerned about this topic.

Students

As far as I know, we haven’t had many students involved in the three civic hacking events held to-date in NE Wisconsin. Here’s one reasonably relevant reason to get students involved -- some schools have a community service requirement. Wouldn’t it be great if students had an opportunity and the assistance to develop civic hacks as all or part of their community service. Not all students would choose the civic hacking option, but I’m betting a few geek students would jump at the opportunity. For more about getting students involved, see “Civic Hacking For Everyone, Part 2: Students.”

The above six types of people have good reasons to be civic hackers. If you know people who fit any of the six hacker profiles, consider inviting them to participate in the next NE Wisconsin civic hacking festivities!

*****

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Tech Tools For Civic Hacking

Smart Chicago published an article about tech tools for civic organizers which talks about tools that I don’t think are used by the NE Wisconsin civic hacking community. It seemed worthwhile to mention them in a post in case any of the region’s civic hackers see particular value in the tools listed in this article or any other ‘tech tools’ they have used which might be relevant to our civic hacking.

On their website, Smart Chicago is described as “a civic organization devoted to improving lives in Chicago through technology. We are guided by our principles and we stay focused on access, skills, and data.” That indicates a bit narrower focus than civic hacking in our area, because we’re saying civic hackers don’t need to be coders and civic hacks don’t necessarily require a significant component of technology. Per this previous blog post and this other post, we want people who aren't coders or highly technical to be involved in civic hacking. In addition, the article talks about citizen surveys and email campaigns, and I don’t think NE Wisconsin civic hacking is at the stage where we’re ready to do citizen surveys or email campaigns. I’m not saying those two activities are bad, but I’m not going to spend a lot of my time on them or strongly encourage someone else to spend time on them. If somebody can be an effective civic hacker by doing one or both of those activities in our region at this point, I’ll just ask them, “How can I help you with surveys or email campaigns?”

The tech tools Smart Chicago uses, as listed in “Tech Tools for Civic Organizations,” are:


As far as I know, Slack and Google Drive are the only tools from this list that NE Wisconsin civic hackers use. And neither tool is used regularly by every civic hacker in the region. Quite a few of the more active civic hackers are in the NE Wisconsin Slack #dhmncivichacks channel but some of the people who’ve been involved with civic hacking in this area are not in that Slack channel. A few local civic hackers have collaborated with Google Docs / Drive, but it has not yet become a frequently used tech tool for the majority of this area’s civic hacking community.

We use Blogger instead of WordPress as the website tool / content management system (CMS) for the public face of NE Wisconsin civic hacking. WordPress is more versatile and powerful than Blogger, but I’ve used Blogger more than WordPress. So it was easier for me to just set up a Blogger hosted site than to spend time figuring out how to do the same thing or more on WordPress. I’d love to have a more versatile website for NE Wisconsin civic hacking, as well as a website for the related-but-larger TIME community (Tech, Innovators, Makers, Entrepreneurs). But that will only happen if someone with website development skills decides that a civic hacking / TIME community website is worth their investment of time and energy to build and maintain the website.

I don’t think NE Wisconsin civic hacking is anywhere near ready for Mail Chimp and email campaigns. Wufoo, Textizen and Twilio might be useful for us, but using them probably won’t happen until someone highly familiar with them decides to incorporate one or more of them into a civic hack project, either as a tool to help build the civic hack or as an integral component for the users of the civic hack.

Meetup.com might be a valuable tech tool for civic hackers to use in NE Wisconsin. The first step is deciding whether it’s worth the cost to use Meetup.com. I think that cost would be $180 per year.

The second step for using Meetup.com effectively is to have someone take responsibility for managing the site / group in a way that helps maintain or increase the number of people participating in civic hacking events. If the right message, content and timing aren’t part of how this tool is used, it would be a waste of money.

The third factor to evaluate is whether the group will be using Meetup.com to sign people up for events that require registration. Meetup.com could be used just for free monthly meetings that don’t require registration, and Eventbrite or another registration service could be used for major events. For bigger events, like the National Day of Civic Hacking, you often need to know how many people will show up, as well as information like what size t-shirt the registrant wears and if they have special meals needs. You sometimes may require payment of a registration fee. I think Meetup.com can do most or all of those tasks, but I’m more familiar with Eventbrite for that type of event management. I think most civic hacking groups (and probably most community groups) use either Meetup.com or Eventbrite, not both. (Eventbrite is free.)

Meetup.com could be helpful because it automatically reminds members of the group about upcoming events, and we currently notify and remind people manually via email, this blog, Slack, in-person or via-phone conversations, and maybe a few social services like Facebook and Twitter. Meetup.com is also useful from the standpoint that many people know the brand, so if someone is looking for a civic hacking group, they might check on Meetup.com.

You should be able to find the NE Wisconsin civic hacking community by Googling for civic hacking in NE Wisconsin or in Appleton, but some people who look on Meetup.com might not Google for us. I didn’t Google for every city in NE Wisconsin, but when I searched for civic hacking Green Bay, civic hacking Oshkosh, civic hacking Fond du Lac, civic hacking Sheboygan and civic hacking Manitowoc, each search found DHMN Civic Hacks in the first page or two of searches. So people who are really interested in civic hacking will find us. Maybe a future blog post will address the topic of civic hacking in cities in NE Wisconsin other than the six listed above, such as Black Creek, Brillion, Chilton, Clintonville, Combined Locks, Darboy, Egg Harbor, Elkhart Lake, Fish Creek, Florence, Grand Chute, Green Lake, Greenville, Hilbert, Kaukauna, Kewaunee, Keshena, Kimberly, Kohler, Little Chute, Marinette, Menasha, Neenah, New London, Oconto, Peshtigo, Plymouth, Ripon, Seymour, Shawano, Shiocton, Sturgeon Bay, Suamico, Two Rivers, Washington Island, Waupaca, Waupun, Wautoma, Winneconne and the other several hundred others in our region that I didn’t list here.

One tech tool not mentioned in the Smart Chicago article is GitHub. Even if a civic hacker isn’t a coder, I think it’s important for them to feel comfortable looking around on GitHub and finding useful information about civic hacks that are on GitHub. At all three civic hacking events held thus far in NE Wisconsin, we’ve made sure to mention the common use of GitHub for civic hacks, and we’ve helped people new to the service register an account and learn a few of the basics.

The last tech tools I’ll mention for today’s post are personal computing devices, which mostly means laptops, smartphones and tablets. Even if you’re not a coder, it’s worthwhile to bring a laptop or a large tablet to civic hacking events because so much of the event will involve information or sites that are on the web. At the June 6th hackathon, I wanted to have five or ten Linux desktop computing setups for people who participated in the event but didn’t bring a laptop or a tablet for easy web access. I plan to make that a priority for our next large event and will publicize the event as providing those tools for people who don’t have a computer but want to do civic hacking. Owning a laptop or tablet shouldn't be a requirement to have fun as a civic hacker.

It’s also good for at least some of the people at a civic hacking event to have smartphones, preferably both iPhone and Android. Some civic hacks are smartphone apps, and it’s good for people to be able to install and use those apps so they can give feedback regarding improvements.

If you know of tech tools that are useful for the NE Wisconsin civic hacking community, please send an email to bwaldron (at) gmail [dott] com, and I’ll add them to this post.

*****

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Intro To Data Scraping For Civic Hackers

Civic hackers often need to use public information that is provided on the web, but the data might not be in a form that is convenient for them to gather or use. When that’s the case, they need to do a bit of data scraping. But what is data scraping, you ask? Rather than trying to clearly explain something I don’t totally understand yet, I’ll let you read the following three ways to explain data scraping.

This Simple Data-Scraping Tool Could Change How Apps Are Made
The number of web pages on the internet is somewhere north of two billion, perhaps as many as double that. It’s a huge amount of raw information. By comparison, there are only roughly 10,000 web APIs–the virtual pipelines that let developers access, process, and repackage that data. In other words, to do anything new with the vast majority of the stuff on the web, you need to scrape it yourself. Even for the people who know how to do that, it’s tedious...”
What is Web Scraping ?
"Web Scraping (also termed Screen Scraping, Web Data Extraction, Web Harvesting etc) is a technique employed to extract large amounts of data from websites. Data from third party websites in the Internet can normally be viewed only using a web browser. Examples are data listings at yellow pages directories, real estate sites, social networks, industrial inventory, online shopping sites, contact databases etc. Most websites do not offer the functionality to save a copy of the data which they display to your local storage. The only option then is to manually copy and paste the data displayed by the website in your browser to a local file in your computer - a very tedious job which can take many hours or sometimes days to complete. Web Scraping is the technique of automating this process, so that instead of manually copying the data from websites, the Web Scraping software will perform the same task within a fraction of the time."
Civic 101 - Getting your city ready for civic hacking (The Basics)
Sometimes, civic innovators will want to use data that isn’t available in a [open] data portal. This may be a table or text on a website. When this happens, a civic hacker can “scrape” the data off the site and enter it into a program. Doing this manually would be time consuming, and so civic innovators have developed programs that do this type of work for them. Scraping is by no means the ideal way to get information as the data usually comes out messy and has to be cleaned up. By releasing data on a data portal, it makes the process much easier.”
This post is just an introduction to the concept of data scraping for civic hackers (by someone who's not an experienced scraper). This is not a guide that explains exactly how to scrape data from a website. I’ll highlight four scraping tools and provide links to websites that do tell you just how to scrape a website for data of interest to you.

Scraper

One tool to look at is the Scraper extension  for the Google Chrome browser. In “Get started with screenscraping using Google Chrome’s Scraper extension” Jens Finnäs says:
How do you get information from a website to a Excel spreadsheet? The answer is screenscraping. There are a number of softwares and platforms (such as OutWit Hub, Google Docs and Scraper Wiki) that helps you do this, but none of them are – in my opinion – as easy to use as the Google Chrome extension Scraper, which has become one of my absolutely favourite data tools. I like to think of a screenscraper as a small robot that reads websites and extracts pieces of information. When you are able to unleash a scraper on hundreds, thousands or even more pages it can be an incredibly powerful tool. In its most simple form, the one that we will look at in this blog post, it gathers information from one webpage only...”
OutWit Hub

OutWit Hub is similar to the Scraper extension but was built for the Firefox browser. A decent overview article for OutWit Hub is “How to Scrape Websites for Data without Programming Skills.” The article author explains that this extension:
“...allows you to point and click your way through different options to extract information from Web pages. When you fire it up, there will be a few simple options along the left sidebar...You’ll see the source for the Web page. The tagged attributes in the source provide markers for certain types of elements that you may want to pull out. Look through this code for the pattern common to the information you want to get out of the website...Once you find the pattern, put the appropriate info in the “Marker before” and “Marker after” columns. Then hit “Execute” and go to town...”
Import.io

The next tool for you to consider is Import.io. “How to scrape data without coding? A step by step tutorial on import.io” explains that Import.io:
“...lets you scrape data from any website into a searchable database. It is perfect for gathering, aggregating and analysing data from websites without the need for coding skills...the idea is to “democratise” data. “We want journalists to get the best information possible to encourage and enhance unique, powerful pieces of work and generally make their research much easier.”...After downloading and opening import.io browser, copy the URL of the page you want to scrape into the import.io browser...”
Kimono

The Wired article linked at the start of this post says that Kimono is:
...a web app that lets you slurp data from any website and turn it instantly into an API. Using a bookmarklet, you highlight the parts of a site you want to scrape and Kimono does the rest. Those with programming chops can take the code Kimono spits out bake it into their own apps; for the code illiterate, Kimono will automatically rework scraped data into a dynamic chart, list, or a simple web app. In essence, it’s a point and click toolkit for taking apart the web, with the aim of letting people build new things with it.
Below are online resources that might be helpful to you as step-by-step guides to scraping data from websites. If I learn about better scraping guides or good alternatives, I’ll update this list with links to those guides.


By reading through this blog post, you should have a pretty good idea of what data scraping is for civic hackers, even if you don't feel like you're an expert at this point. You at least know of a few tools to try out for scraping and know some of the keywords to search for with Google when you need more info.

I’d like to have a future post on this blog with several examples of data scraping from NE Wisconsin city or county websites. Mike Putnam mentioned briefly in a blog post that his AppletonAPI scrapes data from the City of Appleton website. Maybe Mike or another civic hacker will do a post which goes through the scraping process step by step as a guide for others who’d like to do the same type of data scraping.

*****

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

9 Reasons BarCamp Green Bay Is For Civic Hackers

BarCamp Green Bay is now open for registration! The event will happen November 7, 2015, from 9 AM to 11:30 PM at the Northeast Wisconsin Technical College Corporate Conference Center.

As of August 25, the BarCamp Green Bay website says there are 19 people already registered for the event. Registration and participation are free, and the BarCamp will be a great time, so all NE Wisconsin civic hackers should consider participating in this event.

The 9 reasons you should consider being part of BarCamp Green Bay are listed below. Civic hackers can:

  1. Meet lots of interesting like-minded NE Wisconsin TIME community people (tech, innovators, makers, entrepreneurs).
  2. Lead a session about civic hacking.
  3. Lead a session about something not-civic-hacking.
  4. Learn about and discuss new tech skills at sessions led by other BarCampers.
  5. Enjoy relaxed and informal learning and sharing.
  6. Meet people to collaborate with you on future projects.
  7. Build relationships by inviting 30 people from NE Wisconsin to a BarCamp.
  8. Build relationships by inviting 10 interesting people from outside NE Wisconsin to the BarCamp in Green Bay.
  9. Help organize, or volunteer at, a participant-driven event.

BarCamps are technology unconferences which are run using open space technology. If BarCamps, unconferences or open space technology are new concepts to you, you might want to click on those links to read what Wikipedia has to say about them.

For readers who don’t want to bounce to Wikipedia right now:

  • Open space technology, as relates to unconferences, is ‘an approach to hosting meetings focused on a specific and important purpose — but beginning without any formal agenda, beyond the overall purpose or theme. If you participate in a classic-style open space event, you won’t have predetermined session topics or session leaders identified before the start of the event.
  • Unconferences are participant-driven day-long or multi-day events where like-minded people build new relationships and strengthen existing ones, share knowledge and opinions with and learn from each other, and build an event around the ‘worthwhile and interesting conversations that take place in the hallways at traditional conferences.’
  • BarCamps are an international network of user-generated unconferences primarily focused around technology and the web. They are open and participatory events, the content of which is provided by participants.

One of the rules of BarCamp that I firmly believe in is NO SPECTATORS, ONLY PARTICIPANTS. That ‘rule’ is explained thusly:
Attendees must give a demo, a session, or help with one, or otherwise volunteer / contribute in some way to support the event. All [sessions] are scheduled the day they happen. Prepare in advance, but come early to get a slot on the wall. The people present at the event will select the demos or [sessions] they want to see.
The reason BarCamps are worth going to is because everyone has a chance to make the event better, an opportunity to make the event more successful and memorable for other participants. There won’t be enough session slots for everyone to lead a session, so don’t worry about having to be a session leader if that’s not something you want to do. You can contribute by arriving early and helping set up the space in the morning or by staying late and helping clean up at the end. You can contribute relevant information or experiences during sessions, or ask really good questions that help make a session better. Other ways to ‘participate’ are by being an organizer for the BarCamp, by recruiting sponsors for the event, such as your employer or companies you have connections with or are willing to reach out to, by writing about and publicizing the event, and by inviting tons of other people to register for and participate in BarCamp.

BarCamps are worthwhile because the people who go to them make them worthwhile. Civic hackers will get a lot out of BarCamp Green Bay, and they can also do a lot to help make the event memorable for all participants.

Hope to see you at BarCamp Green Bay 2015!

*****

Monday, August 24, 2015

Code Convoy: Seriously Considering A Career In Web Coding Or Development?

If you’re an age 18+ NE Wisconsin civic hacker who is seriously considering web design or development as a full-time career, Code Convoy is a great opportunity for you!

Code Convoy is a free event on September 19, 2015, from 7:30 AM to 5 PM in Green Bay, Wisconsin at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College’s Corporate Conference Center.

NE Wisconsin residents are encouraged to register for Code Convoy,
to try out Web design or development as a potential career path. We don't assume any previous knowledge, but we strongly encourage a deep interest in technology, problem solving and learning new things. The only other requirement [other than age] is that you are seriously considering Web design or development as a full-time career. Code Convoy is a day-long event where you'll work through a self-paced curriculum with instruction and support from experienced
developers and your peers.”
If you want motivation to become a coder, read the July 2015 NYT article “As Tech Booms, Workers Turn to Coding for Career Change.”
After Paul Minton graduated from college, he worked as a waiter, but always felt he should do more. So Mr. Minton, a 26-year-old math major, took a three-month course in computer programming and data analysis. As a waiter, he made $20,000 a year. His starting salary last year as a data scientist at a web start-up here was more than $100,000. 
“Six figures, right off the bat,” Mr. Minton said. “To me, it was astonishing.” 
Stories like his are increasingly familiar these days as people across a spectrum of jobs — poker players, bookkeepers, baristas — are shedding their past for a future in the booming tech industry. The money sloshing around in technology is cascading beyond investors and entrepreneurs into the broader digital work force, especially to those who can write modern code, the language of the digital world...”
Here are five things to keep in mind when reading the NYT article and thinking about Code Convoy:

  1. Paul Minton was a math major, so his high-paying coder job working in data analysis was a natural career path.
  2. On the other hand, many people who are coders now majored in psychology, art, music or other non-STEM fields.
  3. Paul Minton did his coder training at Galvanize, which is a whole different animal than taking a three month coder-training program somewhere in NE Wisconsin. Galvanize does a lot more than just teach you to be able to code. We need the NE Wisconsin equivalent of Galvanize, but it’s unlikely we’ll get it because of the region’s conservative culture, relatively stable economy, lack of a significant tech industry, and lack of influential people willing to make something like that happen.
  4. Most coder jobs that pay $100,000 for someone with relatively little experience are going to be located somewhere other than NE Wisconsin. It appears Mr. Minton’s job was probably in the San Francisco area.
  5. Many developers in NE Wisconsin will get jobs that pay well for the area, but not every developer will. Some developers living in the area work remotely for companies in Chicago or other areas, and those jobs can pay much better than average coder jobs at companies based in NE Wisconsin. Also, I was told that in the Sheboygan, Wisconsin, area there are many developer jobs that are open just because they can’t find enough people to fill them.

The Code Convoy event is organized and sponsored by Headway and Digital Fertilizer. If you know of companies in NE Wisconsin who want to help support this effort to have more high-paying tech jobs and more developers in our region, please connect them with the Code Convoy organizers at info@headway.io!


*****

Sunday, August 23, 2015

A Few Events And Organizations For Civic Hackers

This post is a first attempt at compiling a list of the areas events and organizations which intersect with the interests of people who do civic hacking, as well as other members of the NE Wisconsin TIME community (Tech, Innovators, Makers, Entrepreneurs).

There have been three civic hacking events in NE Wisconsin so far in 2015 -- the June 6th hackathon, the July 22nd meetup, and the August 19th meetup. There will likely be a few more civic hacking events this year, but what are some other events which civic hackers might want to participate in or attend? And what organizations in our region might be of interest to civic hackers?

Events

One type of event for civic hackers to be aware of is the regular meetings of tech organizations in NE Wisconsin. In most cases, that means monthly meetings, although sometimes they're held every other month or quarterly, with a few groups meeting weekly. Check the organizations’ websites for date, time, location and other meeting details.

Ad hoc, or one-off, meetups are another type of event. This type of event is held when a person or, more likely, a group of people decide they want to have a meeting. The informal civic hacking meetups in July and August fall into that category. Finding out about these meetings involves subscribing to or periodically checking relevant websites, like DHMN Civic Hacks, for mention of events relevant to you. You can also find out about ad hoc events by (a) following civic hackers or TIME community members on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+, (b) participating in the NE Wisconsin Slack #dhmncivichacks channel, and (c) getting on opt-in mailing lists for organizations or for specific types of activities.

Some organizations or communities of like-minded people put on annual events that may be of interest to specific types of civic hackers. For example, coders are probably interested in the NEWCodeCamp. You can find out dates and other details for these types of events by checking their websites or searching on Google for the event name and the current year.

NE Wisconsin Organizations

Below are some of the region’s organizations that may appeal to civic hackers, with a heavy emphasis on tech groups. This is just groups I’m aware of, and I'm sure there are more out there with civic hacker appeal. If you know of currently active organizations to add to the list, please send me the organization’s name, website, and contact info.

  1. AITP, Association of IT Professionals
  2. Appleton Makerspace 
  3. Appleton Makerspace Coder Cooperative 
  4. Appleton WordPress Meetup 
  5. DHMN, Distributed Hacker/Maker Network 
  6. Digital Fertilizer 
  7. Fox Cities PHP Users Group
  8. FoxPASS, Professional Association for SQL Server 
  9. FoxPUG, Python Users Group 
  10. FRAUG, Fox River Autodesk User Group
  11. NEW Agile Users 
  12. NEWDUG, NE Wisconsin Developers Users Group 
  13. NEWLUG, NE Wisconsin Linux Users Group 

Below are some types of events in which civic hackers may be interested. Let me know what other events I should add to the list.

  1. Organization regularly scheduled meeting
  2. BarCamp, CityCamp, EdCamp or EduCamp, LibraryCamp and other unconferences
  3. Civic hacking meetup, hackathon or challenge / competition
  4. Coder hackathon or challenge / competition
  5. Startup Weekend
  6. TechBreakfast and Geek Dinner
  7. Mini Maker Faire
  8. Tech Cafe (like Google Tech Talks)
  9. Learning Workshop
  10. Classes

I'll update the above two lists periodically if you send me the info or if I learn of others that civic hackers might want to check out.

Because NE Wisconsin is not a hotbed of tech or civic hacking activity, area civic hackers should also consider going outside the boundaries of our 18 counties, both to enjoy a larger number and wider variety of events than offered here and to connect with new people and new ideas.

If you think NE Wisconsin needs a new event not currently available, consider rounding up a core group of organizers to help you create that meeting or other type of activity. With the social networks, smartphones, and free Internet communications and publicity available in 2015, it’s easier than ever to organize participant-driven events. It's easy to start with small informal meetups at local coffee shops or other third places. If you want to do a larger meeting than an informal meetup of friends, consider doing an unconference. If you’re not sure where to start, contact me (bwaldron [at] gmail [dott] com) or look online at some of the guides or how-to manuals for organizing and running an unconference. You’ll meet new people, make new friends, learn and share information and skills, and have a great time doing it!

(Wouldn’t it be handy if there was a website that listed all the organizations and events of interest to NE Wisconsin civic hackers and other members of the region’s TIME community?)

*****

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Civic Hacking In The News: August 22, 2015

For your weekend reading pleasure on August 22, 2015, several recent online items relevant to civic hacking are presented herein. Click on the item headlines to read any whose excerpt is of particular interest to you.

The Civic Hacker Hacked
Ever since I read Brett Scott’s engrossing piece on what he refers to as the “gentrification of hacker culture” I’ve been thinking about how this idea might apply to the world of civic hacking… 
  • “The countercultural trickster has been pressed into the service of the preppy tech entrepreneur class. It began innocently, no doubt. The association of the hacker ethic with startups might have started with an authentic counter-cultural impulse on the part of outsider nerds tinkering away on websites. But, like all gentrification, the influx into the scene of successive waves of ever less disaffected individuals results in a growing emphasis on the unthreatening elements of hacking over the subversive ones.” — The Hacker Hacked, by Brett Scott 
Many early civic hacking projects grew out of frustration with the quality of public services and the lack of available data from governments...These early civic hacking projects often used FOIA requests or web scrapers to obtain data that governments were reluctant to open up, and some even drew the ire of the government lawyers. The “subversive” nature of civic hacking continues to this day through the work of people like Carl Malamud and others. It would be unwise to forget the many institutional barriers that still exist to releasing open data from government, and collaborating effectively with outside parties... 
There is much to be gained by building bridges between the world of civic hacking and government. There is a long history of volunteerism to help government in this country, of which civic hacking can be viewed as a contemporary extension. Engaged civic hackers can help build solutions that help governments deliver services more effectively... 
But is there a risk that the civic hacking community will become gentrified? Has it already become so? Do civic hacking groups that work regularly and closely with government officials feel empowered to ask tough, direct (often uncomfortable) questions about data releases and procurement practices? Do groups that collaborate regularly with government feel that they have standing to hold public officials’ feet to the fire when needed?...”
Civic hacking has probably been gentrified at the local and federal level, and it absolutely is gentrified at the state level. That can be detrimental in situations where there are big problems that civic hacking could fix.. If the civic hackers become afraid to ask hard questions, are reluctant to push for faster changes or don’t work on certain useful projects because government employees are resistant to change, then it’s the hacked civic hackers who need to be hacked! That situation seems most likely to happen in the larger cities (200,000+?) that have bigger problems. Maybe I’m not looking in the right places or at the right things, but I’m not aware of any big problems in NE Wisconsin that aren’t being worked on because civic hackers in the region are too gentrified.

The only civic problem I’m aware of in NE Wisconsin is that city officials and others are too satisfied with the way things are to want to change the way things have always been done. Because there is very little change to the status quo, our region makes small changes and minor improvements while more innovative regions race off to the future. By not making major changes, we get further and further behind. Unfortunately, that’s a cultural attitude that the civic hackers of NE Wisconsin don’t have the funding, tools and support to change...

130 Chicago Youth Learn Web-based Tech and Earn Microsoft Laptops
Smart Chicago Collaborative in partnership with Get In Chicago and Microsoft will celebrate 130 student’s completion of the 6-week Youth-led Tech Program...“Youth-led Tech | Summer 2015” is a pilot technology mentoring program in five Chicago neighborhoods...This program is funded through Get IN Chicago, whose mission is to support programs that lead to a sustainable reduction in violence for individuals and communities most affected by violence and poverty. Youth who completed all of their learning hours will earn the Microsoft based laptop used during programming at the certificate ceremony. 
The conceptual model for this program is “youth-led tech”, which means teaching technology in the context of the needs and priorities of young people. Youth learned how to use free and inexpensive Web tools to make websites and use social media to build skills, generate revenue, and get jobs in the growing technology industry. The youth also learned about other jobs in tech— strategy, project management, design, and so on. Additionally, the youth were provided introductory content about game design and app development. 
All of the youth now know how to set up a website, have been exposed to sophisticated tech skills, and know how to find real customers and employers for their skills.”
NE Wisconsin doesn’t have as much need for programs that “lead to a sustainable reduction in violence for individuals and communities most affected by violence and poverty” as Chicago does. Thank goodness! But our region can still learn valuable lessons from the Youth-Led Tech program. It would be awesome if NE Wisconsin pulled together corporations, foundations, educators and civic hackers to do a multi-city version of Youth-Led Tech in the summer of 2016. Click here to  download the Youth-Led Tech curriculum set.


Why Govenment APIs Are Essential To The US Economy
Data is playing an increasingly-prominent role in business as more records are made more easily available through open data portals and public APIs. Writing for DigitalGov back in April, Bill Brantley discussed the importance of government data to the US economy...Combining data in innovative ways can provide valuable informational products and services, and this is a solid argument for encouraging the DOC to release more data via APIs...This information could be used to determine commercial opportunities or environmental impacts, or to track any series of metrics to determine the health of the industry...”
Government data is fuel for job creation, says Commerce Department CDO
“...government agencies publish data about labor, energy, health, transit, telecommunications, criminal justice, and just about everything else than can be measured, managed, performed, or regulated by state entities. The 12 bureaus that make up the US Department of Commerce are among the most important collectors and publishers of data in the nation, and thus on the planet... 
In Washington, DC, Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker hired Ian J. Kalin in March 2015 to be the agency's first CDO, tasking him with improving the quantity and quality of data available to the public he serves. Our interview with Kalin...follows, lightly edited for length and clarity... 
My job is to help create jobs with information. That's what I do. Information helps people. Data is one way to talk about it. There's a lot of great data from the government that can help people create jobs and services. My job is to insure that there is a great quantity and quality of that information so that they can create those fantastic products...”
A participant at the August 19 civic hacking meetup in Appleton asked me if anybody makes money doing civic hacking. The two items above address the issue of figuring out how to provide and use federal public data to power or assist a business. Government open data and APIs can be translated into multi-million dollar businesses. Some civic hackers have converted successful civic hack projects into for-profit companies. Other people have paid their dues by civic hacking for a couple years, then leveraged their skill and knowledge into a job in the govtech sector. Civic hacking, govtech and government jobs will never pay as much as for-profit companies, but civic hacking has led some people into a full-time job they truly enjoy.

Keep plugging away
BallotPath founder Jim Cupples sent me a follow-up note (see below), and it hits home two important points. 
First, if someone is excited about a civic or government technology idea, and they reach out to you for advice or feedback, take the call and listen. Don’t be dismissive or unload your cynicism. Be encouraging...It’s easy for those of us who’ve been doing this for a while to be cynical, but we’re the ones that should be the most helpful... 
Second, if you’re like Jim and are excited about changing how civics works, don’t let the curmudgeons bring you down...With his permission, here’s the full email from Jim... 
Hey Luke,
A long time ago I emailed you through LinkedIn and you encouraged me to keep plugging away at my project of building a national database of all elected officials. I was new to civic tech and didn’t know anyone and rarely received any support. Most people said to me (unnecessarily aggressive and condescendingly) “How are you going to make money with that?” but I didn’t care because I had this need to continue working on it. 
Fast forward 18 or so months later and I’ve: received funding from the Sunlight Foundation, completed the entire state of Oregon and 50 of the Top 100 Counties in the US, found a permanent position with NationBuilder working on the project with their tech resources, and have a network of universities around the country that help me recruit political science interns to do the candidacy filing procedure research (almost all of the UC schools, U of Oregon, U of Washington, Boise State, U of Hawaii, CUNY, and others). Thanks for responding to me when you didn’t know who I was and probably seemed like a lot of other people who have a passing thought on a project...”
This item highlights the value of persistence for civic hackers who identify a significant civic need, believe deeply in their project, and continue reaching out to people affected by the civic hack and people who may be interested in collaborating on or supporting the civic hack project. It would be fun to meet with Jim Cupples and hear about his two-year journey to get to where he is now.

Collaborative Project Management
Collaboration is at the heart of the Smart Chicago Collaborative and is essential to achieving the goals of the civic technology movement. The hard problems that need to be solved can not be solved in isolation. 
There is an art to collaboration. Being in a collaboration means that you’ve agreed that your partner or partnering organization is already highly capable at what they do. It means that you’ve agreed upon a common goal and a plan of action to achieve that goal. Being in a collaboration means that you’ve opened up the lines of communication for the duration of the project. 
Working collaboratively isn’t always easy – particularly when the project involves multiple partners or complex problems. Things can get exponentially more complex each time you add a moving part.  Here’s some thoughts on how I’ve approached collaborative project management in my consulting practice and in my work at Smart Chicago...”
The author of this post is a leader of Chicago civic hacking, and it seems likely he wrote this post because Chicago civic hackers need to do better on their collaborative project management. It’s easy to see why that might be the case.
  1. Civic hackers are, for the most part, volunteers. That means the leaders of various civic hack projects need to have even better people skills than managers in companies, because the volunteers can quit working on the project any time they don’t feel they’re being listened to or aren’t enjoying the project work. And there is no ‘paycheck leverage’ to help keep project contributors accountable for their portion of the work.
  2. Computer code is a significant aspect of many civic hack projects. It’s hard enough to find effective project managers for coding projects when you’re paying them $100K+/year. Can you imagine the odds of finding an effective project manager of a coding project when you’re paying them nothing, and you’re paying the coders working on the project nothing?
  3. Civic hacking is a relatively new trend. As a result, few civic hack project leaders have much experience with it, there aren't many examples showing how it's done, and the tech platforms and tools have not yet been standardized. These aspects make project management both more difficult and more needed.

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