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?


Top Stories on InspiredToEducate.NET

Learning To Code




Trends You Need To Know from #OSCON 2014


The culture of open source continues to make an impact beyond software and programming. The ethos of open source has helped fuel the makers movement.   In the open source convention(#OSCON 2014), speakers reviewed the impact of open source in government, education, manufacturing, and making.  The OSCON event is one of the most popular forums reviewing the best of open culture.

It has been cool to see technology conferences including educational tracks.   As a community of technology professionals, we know that we need to inspire and engage young makers.   We need to find ways to make science, technology, engineering, art, and math exciting, relevant, and meaningful.   I think it’s so cool that OSCON included content to help kids get started with computer programming.  The first keynote from the conference was given by a young maker.  (see video below)   To learn more about the educational track of OSCON Kids Day, check out this discussion from FLOSS weekly.

I hope you enjoy these stories from OSCON 2014.


Join the Spark Macon Maker Space Community on Facebook

Posts From InspiredToEducate.NET



Thanks to oreillyconf for sharing this photo.

10 Community Service Challenge Ideas for Civic Hackers

Hack for change picuture
As I have started to share the story of the National Day of Civic Hacking with my friends, local designers, programmers and family, I commonly receive the following question:  What kinds of projects can I do?
I wrote this post so that you’re not stuck with “blank paper” syndrome.   Innovation is sparked by context, looking at needs and challenges.   When you attend a hackathon like the National Day of Civic Hacking, the organizers or event sponsors often share project ideas, challenge statements and support material.    You, however, do not need to limit yourself to those ideas.    I wanted to briefly share a few project ideas to help inspire you during your next civic hacking event.   Most of the project ideas come from a community known as “Random Hacks of Kindness.”   Please consider joining us and citizens around the nation in the National Day of Civic Hacking. (see details below)   It will be a fun and innovative weekend of community service to YOUR community.

Looking for more inspiration? Check out the following:


Hack for Change 2014

InspiredToEducate.NET Posts Growing an Awesome City through a Culture of Making

Check out

Maker spaces are starting all across the country providing a welcoming environment for tinkering and inventing.  In these spaces, you’ll find programmers building cool apps.   In the same space, you might find a class of young people learning how to build their first Arduino project.  You might find an inventor prototyping components for a new product using the 3D printer.   In this past week, I had an opportunity to experience a vibrant Maker community in Augusta, Georgia called   In this post, I want to share a few ideas from this community for growing your city.

How does Support the Augusta, Georgia Community?

  • Supporting Young Makers: The community actively encourages young people to appreciate science, technology, engineering, art, and math through their “Young Makers” program.   Class topics can include web programming, Manga, Arduino programming, 3D printing, and much more.  Mr. Charles Gantt shared his experiences organizing and leading some of their Young Maker events.  At times, kids have a hard time feeling welcome with their peers in a traditional school environment.   Charles has been encouraged that their Young Maker events often provide an environment where these kids feel a sense of welcoming and belonging.  (Very cool!)   The kids can really get into their building projects.   In many cases, the students don’t want to go home.
  • Creating Jobs: The community attracts people engaged in tinkering and technology.   Some community members who met through the organization have started building start-ups in Augusta together.   (Check out   In other cases, a job seeker meets a potential employer through an event.  In this case, acts as a social connector for job creation.
  • Community Innovation: I would encourage you to check out the social media feeds on Twitter and FaceBook to see the output of the group.   In the past weekend, the community participated in the international NASA space apps challenge.   It’s fun to see the new ideas and projects from people who are passionate about technology and helping others be successful.   Great ideas need to be spread and shared.   The community has hosted TedX events in their space.
  • Supporting the “Cool” vibe of Augusta:   I think it’s awesome that the community is actively leading the block party in late May.   The event helps to connect the community of artists in Augusta to the community of hackers.   Very fun and cool!
How do you support an awesome Maker community?
Charles mentioned that everyone in the community wants to make something that they can feel proud of.    I think these citizens of Augusta, Georgia have built something that is very special: a welcoming and innovative Maker community.   I appreciated Eric Parker, Grace Belangia, Charles J Gantt, and Vinnie Ingallinera for sharing their experiences.   I wanted to share some of their tips for building a Maker community in your area.
  • When you’re building your own space, do not immediately start purchasing expensive equipment.   Focus on building the community.   With the community feedback and support, collaboratively start making tool purchase decisions.
  • The community is generous.   In many cases, the community will share personal resources for the benefit of the community.
  • Partner with user groups and community groups in your area.
  • Encourage of a culture of pride.   The community should be proud of EVERYTHING it does.   This applies to teaching, building a culture, or making cool stuff.
  • Find ways to serve your greater community.
  • Find Makers.   Help those Makers become successful in their passion.
  • Encourage a DEMO culture.   If you spend time in the community space, at the end of the day, you are encouraged to share the product of your work with the community.    It’s kind of like “show and tell” for Makers.   It helps others to learn from your experience.  It might trigger other innovations too.
  • How do you financially support the space of the community?
    • is supported through monthly memberships.
    • The community regularly sponsors events.   In many cases, the events are sponsored by community partners and companies.
    • In the future, the community will be supported by grants.
    • In the future, the community will be supported by co-working space membership fees.
I want to express my thanks to Eric, Grace, Charles, and Vinnie for taking time from their busy schedules to share the story of .   I also want to thank Brent Lanford from Middle Georgia Regional Commission for inviting me to tour this community space.  It was SO fun taking a road trip with him and his team to visit this maker space.   Thank you Kristi and Robert for the great road trip conversation.   I’m excited to work with Brent and other community leaders to grow a Maker culture in Macon and Warner Robins, Georgia.
People to follow from
  • Eric Parker @ep_aia: architect+entrepreneur, designing a box where the outside is in, and then thinking outside the box again @HackAugusta @_Clubhouse
  • Grace Belangia @GraceBelangia: The girl in green. TEDx Organizer, HACKAugusta,, triathlete, event planning. Connecting, communicating and collaborating with your community.
  • Charles J Gantt @CharlesJGantt: | Tech Journalist | Reviewer | Maker | Drupal Developer | Gamer | Writer | Photographer | Kayaker | 3D Printer | DIY Electronics Geek | Tech Junkie
  • Vinnie Ingallinera @TonyStarkWannaB: This wanna be Tony Stark is masculine, malevolent,and mysterious; with a penchant for both the adventurous and intriguing.



Join the National Day of Civic Hacking

Hack For Change

Are you a programmer, community leader, or designer wanting to make a difference?  Mark your calendars for May 31 – June 1, 2014 for the National Day of Civic Hacking, a fun weekend of community service using design, programming and technology.  Whether you’re a novice or expert, all are welcome!


Why Join the Civic Hacking Day

  • Contribute to Your Community: The news is filled with challenges and problems that face our nation, state, and local communities.   On this weekend of community service, technologists across the nation join forces to grow our communities and prototype solutions.
  • Learning by Doing:  I greatly appreciate that the “National Day of Civic Hacking” is open to everyone!  You do not need to be an expert in technology to be a part of the event.   The event is an fruitful opportunity to learn from community designers, entrepreneurs, community leaders, and programmers.   Since the event only lasts one or two days,  teams design very simple solutions to a focused challenge.   The weekend time bounds create an intense and fun learning experience. You learn innovation by doing it.
  • Network with Creative Designers, Programmers, and Leaders: Creatives love to share their craft.   The Civic Hacking Day provides an opportunity for you to get inspired by new ideas, new design techniques, novel tools, and positive social connections.
  • Gain Insight into Community Challenges: The event shines a light on civic challenges and open data.   Collaborating with other innovators in your area, you get to study of problems in your community that YOU care about.
  • Experience the Creative Process:  The 1 or 2 day time box forces teams to explore simple solutions.   Teams will need to focus on one problem, brainstorm potential solutions, prototype a solution, and pitch the idea to your peers.   This is a weekend of action and focused creativity.
My Experience
Last summer, I had the opportunity to participate in my first civic hackathon in Macon, GA.  I spent the weekend prototyping a social network site to encourage and support student entrepreneurs to design a business plan, prototype ideas, and learn by experimentation.   During the weekend of building the site, I learned a lot with my team.  ( check out this post for more details )   It was fun building a social network.   We, however, struggled with keeping our idea focused and communicating the vision.   After supporting the community site with blog posts for months, I decided to pivot the idea for the community site.   While business minded high school and college students exist, these students are a very small minority.   I still believe that it’s important to give hope to high school and college students.   I’m still troubled when some of my young friends graduate from school and struggle to find work.   My personal goal was to give students inspiration and help them discover that they have options.  So, In the spirit of the lean startup, we created a minimum viable product(MVP), we tested it, and I learned lots of lessons.  

As I reflect upon the past year, I feel like I’m still accomplishing the vision of Changella website by mentoring our local Mercer University Google Developer Group.   I love teaching the craft of software and web development.   It has been fun to challenge our group to think about software as a means of positive change.   Technology is not an end.


How Do I Get Involved?

To learn more about the event get involved, visit the following website.   Events are organized across the country.

What’s a Hackathon?  

InspiredToEducate.NET Posts




10+ Lessons To Help You Grow Your Skills as a Developer

Coding Dojo

The Google Developer Group of Mercer University strives to teach web and mobile developers about the various tools Google has available to help create great products more efficiently.  GDG Macon also helps technology students at Mercer University meet developers from the local community and provide community building for Middle Georgia IT professionals.

We have had a lot of fun building community and learning together in 2013 and 2014.  Just in case you missed all the action, we’ve collected many of the lessons from our sessions.   We hope the content serves you in growing your skills as a technology professional.

Fall 2013
Connecting Your Favorite Google Services Using Google App Script

Building Web Apps at Google Scale – Introduction To AppEngine

Finding Common Interests in Community Challenges and Hack-a-thons

Review of Tools for Android Development

Using “Coding Dojo” to Engage Learners and Have Fun

Ignite Talks on HTML5 – Lots of Learning in 5 minutes

Introduction HTML5 and JavaScript using Games

Spring 2014

Easy Data Visualization with Google Charts and JavaScript


Introduction to Dart

Avast, Ye Pirates: Write a Web App using Dart

Coming Soon to Mercer GDG in Spring 2014

3 Free Visual Analysis Tools to Help You Gain Insight Faster

Visual analysis of DNA

Visual data analysis help organizations make decisions and learn faster by leveraging our natural ability to visually detect patterns quickly.This presentation reviews the motivation to visual analytics research.  We also review demo visualizations from, Google Charts API, and other tools.

Check out to learn more about their awesome JavaScript visualization tools.

Programmer visualization tools

Visualization tools for non-programmers

Related Posts


Photo attributed from lenards


David McCandless: The Beauty of Data Visualization

David McCandless turns complex data sets (like worldwide military spending, media buzz, Facebook status updates) into beautiful, simple diagrams that tease out unseen patterns and connections. Good design, he suggests, is the best way to navigate information glut — and it may just change the way we see the world.

This TED talk presents a timeless message for our modern age.   As we need to learn to manage information overload as a community, it’s interesting to consider that the demand for data visualization and critical analysis skills will only increase.


Key Questions: What kinds of questions would you like to explore using data visualization?   How can data visualizations enhance the stories that you share?


TEDTalks is a daily video podcast of the best talks and performances from the TED Conference, where the world’s leading thinkers and doers give the talk of their lives in 18 minutes. Featured speakers have included Al Gore on climate change, Philippe Starck on design, Jill Bolte Taylor on observing her own stroke, Nicholas Negroponte on One Laptop per Child, Jane Goodall on chimpanzees, Bill Gates on malaria and mosquitoes, Pattie Maes on the “Sixth Sense” wearable tech, and “Lost” producer JJ Abrams on the allure of mystery. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design, and TEDTalks cover these topics as well as science, business, development and the arts. Closed captions and translated subtitles in a variety of languages are now available on, at Watch a highlight reel of the Top 10 TEDTalks at



Picture from here.

How might we improve the way citizens and governments interact?

If you read the news paper, it’s impossible to avoid headlines related to big issues facing our culture.   How do we value people and human life?  How do we address poverty?  How do we improve our education system to foster a culture of great teachers?   For our exceptional teachers, how do we celebrate those teachers with a great salary?   How do we stimulate the local economy to create jobs?

As common citizens, it’s easy for us to feel powerless in the face of these big problems.   We often think about government as this “big entity” that we influence by voting, writing letters, and getting involved in local councils.     Like many others from the “code for America” movement, I believe that social media and the internet give citizens a new opportunity to connect with each other and local leaders to create positive change in our neighborhoods.    Social media, however, is only a tool.   It takes great leaders, engaged communities, and a common vision to address some of the big issues facing our culture.  How do we get more of this?

Jennifer Pahlka, one of the founding leaders from Code for America, has an awesome quote about a new vision of government:  “Government is about doing together what we can’t do alone.”   Government isn’t just the people we elect to public office.   Citizens have the potential to connect to each other, self-organize, and form communities of reform. is an example of an app that can be used by citizens to identify issues in their area and encouraging citizens/government to resolve them.

I wanted to shine a light on an open innovation event sponsored by the Knight Foundation.    I believe the Knight Foundation has a very cool and important mission:  “Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged.”

How might we improve the way citizens and governments interact?

They seem to have a passion for engaging citizens and solving “big problems” in novel ways.  In their current innovation challenge, they are asking citizens to address the following question: “How might we improve the way citizens and governments interact?”   You can learn more about their challenge to government and local citizens by visiting

I believe their approach to this challenge is cool since they are executing this challenge using OpenIdeo’s social innovation platform.   This platform has many of my favorite ideas:  online collaboration, gamification, and designing engagement experiences with focused missions.

At the time of the writing, the challenge event has collected 109 innovation ideas.    In the spirit of previous Knight Foundation challenges, they hope to financially support some of the top ideas.

  • What one idea would you want to share?  What’s important to you?
  • From a project based learning perspective, can we use these open innovation challenges to create “mini-challenges” that can be shared with students?
Related posts:



Photo taken from




Envisioning the future of education technology