Civic Hacking: Why does it matter?

Hack for change picuture

Civic hacking has become a potent movement for engaging coders, designers, and technology professionals in challenges that matter to the community.   Computer hacking tends to have a negative connotation.  Some call civic hacking “hacking gone good” since it’s really about community service and place making.

I had the good fortune to participate in the National Day of Civic hacking on June 6th at SparkMacon MakerSpace.  I want to give a shout out to the organizations that made the event possible: TAG Middle Georgia, LBA Ware, Infinity Network Solutions and Spinen.   I especially want to thank the team that organized the event for their investment of time in organizing challenge mentors, making people feel welcome, and supporting our makers.

Hack For Change

Some argue that civic hackathons have little value since it’s rare to find apps that find their way into full implementation and  achieve impact.  I, however, feel that civic hackathons offer our communities a number of benefits.

  • Building a tribe change makers: It’s great to meet like mind technologists who care about making a positive impact in their community.  Hackathons enable you to meet new people, make connections, and learn about the deeper needs of your area.  Through the experience, you learn about new tools, practices, and strategies for doing rapid prototyping.
  • Local Data, Local Impact: Democracy only works when citizens are engaged.   I appreciate that the civic hacking movement helps us to learn about local concerns and empowers us to do something about it.  Being a geek about data, it’s also fascinating to learn about the open government API’s and data sources that can support civic apps.
  • Voting with your code: It’s interesting to see what problems makers care about.   In a typical hackathon, there’s a broad range of issues, data and topics to choose.  The team tends to select projects based on skill level, their engagement in the topic, and challenge difficulty.
  • Building a community of support: During our hackathon event, it was cool to see how different teams mentored and supported each other.  Everyone has different strengths in terms of design or technology.   I can honestly say that everyone learned from each other.   In our hackathon in Macon, it was nice to see the experienced hackers mentoring the new developers and helping them feel welcome.

In our hackathon in Macon, GA, one team created an mobile app serving Peace corp team members to help them to know about safety and security alerts as they travel to various countries.   Another team of hackers helped propose and prototype applications that would help high school students with learning vocabulary for SAT/ACT .

We had some important discussions on the real impact of hackathons.   In general, how do we care, feed, market, and grow various hackathon ideas?  How do you care for the hacks from a software maintenance point of view?  How do you intentionally organize the challenge ideas and data sets?  The team from Spinen made some strong arguments for making a home for these concerns.  I’m interested in seeing how this idea can grow.

Are you interested in contributing a challenge problem for future hackathons for SparkMacon Makerspace?  Feel free to contribute your ideas here:

Submit a hackathon challenge idea to SparkMacon

To help contribute to this conversation locally for Middle Georgia, I have compiled most of the challenge problems, data, resources, and links from previous SparkMacon hackathons and HackForChange events.  At a minimum, it would be cool to create a backlog of challenge ideas that can be used in future Middle Georgia hackathons and SparkMacon Open Make events.

Middle Georgia Civic Hacking Projects and Resources

To close, here’s some links sharing the impact of civic hacking in communities.   I think it’s work that matters.   I believe it’s a cool way to innovate our communities and create engagement.   What do you think?


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