Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Day-After Report: “It’s a LOT of work to be an informed voter”

David Kieffer captured the essence of why a group of NE Wisconsin civic hackers are focusing on voting and elections when he said, “It’s a LOT of work to be an informed voter.

In 2016, with a majority of Americans having broadband internet access and almost 200 million of them carrying smartphones, there is no good reason for it to be hard to find any voting information you want using a desktop computer, a laptop, or a mobile device. But sadly, it is hard. And that needs to change.

Civic hackers, including YOU, can help make voting information more easily findable online, especially via mobile devices.

For frozen civic hackers gathered last night in Appleton, voting was the main topic of conversation.

Two days ago when I left the house, the temperature outside was minus 7 degrees Fahrenheit. Yesterday morning was warmer by comparison -- all the way up to 3 degrees. This morning the temperature was back down to zero. In spite of this chilly Wisconsin winter weather, a few hardy hackers braved the elements and gathered at Appleton Coworking last night, January 12, 2016. The civic hacking meetup was a combination of conversation, code, coworking, cold, and camaraderie. We also had delicious pizza and soda provided courtesy of the meetup sponsor, Omni Resources, (THANKS, Omni!) as well as a
Pizza and soda sponsored by Omni Resources!
couple varieties of Wisconsin-brewed beer brought by thirsty civic hackers. Two civic hackers participated remotely via Slack and GitHub, but they weren’t able to enjoy the pizza and beverages…

If readers of this blog post are interested in civic hacking but didn’t show up at last night’s event because they didn’t know about it, consider joining the #dhmncivichacks channel of the NE Wisconsin Slack team. If you’re not on that Slack team, go to to get an invitation. There are about 200 people in our region who use that communication tool to connect with each other, find out what’s happening, and ask or answer questions.

There was some conversation last night about the work remaining to complete the next version of the “Is it recycling week?” Android app (IIRW). Ross Larson did a couple updates on the Pebble Smartwatch version of IIRW, and Mike Rosack briefly discussed the work he’s planning for adding color into the Pebble app. (Maybe I can get Ross and Mike to collaborate on a Pebble IIRW update post after Mike gets the color coding done. Ross’ blog posts about the Pebble app have been some of the most popular ones on DHMN Civic Hacking, so it appears there are lots of civic hackers with Pebbles.)

Civic hackers at Appleton Coworking on Jan 12, 2016
Other than the IIRW discussions and work, most of our civic hacking last night was focused on voting and elections. We discussed what types of information people want to find, especially via mobile devices, and did collaborative research on voting and election civic hacks, sharing links and ideas we found.

Based on our work during the January 12 meetup, we agreed there are good reasons to focus on voting civic hacks for the next couple months, including the reasons listed below:

  • Several people involved in last night’s meetup have been frustrated in the past by the difficulty of finding voting and elections info online.
  • 2016 is a US presidential election year, which means a higher voter turnout.
  • Higher voter turnout and increased usage of mobile devices may help more people see value in civic hacking.
  • Significant work has been done on voting civic hacks (e.g. the Voting Information Project) but user experience and findability of local voting information still leaves much to be desired.

In the next few months I’ll be writing a series of posts on this blog related to voting and elections. The February 2016 civic hacking meetup (on February 16 or 17, TBD) will focus strongly on voting, and I’ll invite to the meetup a wide variety of NE Wisconsin people involved with voting. If we’re making good progress on voting issues after the February meetup, we’ll probably have a theme of voting and elections hacks for an all-day civic hackathon on March 5.

By focusing on voting civic hacks early in 2016, we can be ready for November 2016 elections. Those may seem far off in the future, but things have a way of sneaking up on us while we’re busy going about our everyday lives. The plan for being prepared for November includes:

  1. Researching the Voting Information Project and other civic hacks relevant to voting and elections.
  2. Contacting and inviting to the civic hacking meetups a wide variety of NE Wisconsin people involved with voting, including League of Women Voters, politicians, appropriate city employees and other relevant government individuals, and newspaper political reporters.
  3. Contacting people working on voting civic hacks outside NE Wisconsin. They can help us be better informed about relevant civic hacks and can help us as we work on this category of hacks leading up elections in November.
  4. Identifying the voting civic hacks most useful for NE Wisconsin and working with appropriate people to get as much elections information available via those hacks for voters in November 2016.

If you’re interested in the topic of voting and elections, check back on this blog for more posts on the topic. And consider joining us in improving the voting civic hacks and getting them used by more people.

[Below are three blog posts from last summer about voting civic hacks.]


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


Monday, January 11, 2016

Civic Hacker Meetup Tomorrow, January 12th

Calling all frozen civic hackers in NE Wisconsin! You are warmly welcomed and encouraged to show up for the regional civic hacking meetup at Appleton Coworking tomorrow, January 12, 2016, from 7 to 9 PM (space will be open by 6:30 PM).

If you’ve participated in a previous civic hacking event, such as the 2015 National Day of Civic Hacking or one of the monthly meetups like the one on August 19th last year, or if you have been doing civic hacking of some type on your own, it will be fun to have you involved with the January 12th meetup.

If you haven’t done civic hacking before, or if you never even heard of civic hacking, come on down to Appleton Coworking -- we’ll answer all your questions about what the concept is and how we’re hacking to have fun and make NE Wisconsin a better place to live. We’ll get you involved with an existing civic hack, like “Is it recycling week?,” or help you get started on a new civic hack.

Appleton Coworking is located at 120 N Morrison Street, Suite 101, in the heart of Appleton (on the first floor of the Willems Marketing building). For parking, there are free-after-6PM metered spaces near the coworking facility. There are also nearby parking ramps, which cost $2.

This civic hacker meetup is for interested people from throughout NE Wisconsin, not just those who live in Appleton or the Fox Valley. So if you’re in De Pere, Fond du Lac, Green Bay, Manitowoc, Oshkosh, Sheboygan, Sturgeon Bay, or one of the many other fine cities in our region, come join the fun! And if you want to host a civic hacking meetup in your hometown, let me know (bwaldron [at] gmail {dott} com). I’ll work with you to organize an event in your city.

Pebble Smartwatch
We’ll likely have people working on the trash / recycling family of civic hacks, including one related to the Pebble Smartwatch, as well as whatever other hacks participants are most interested in.

Looking forward to seeing you tomorrow night at Appleton Coworking!