Is Civic Hacking Good for Cities?

According to Code for America, yes it is, and here are the 10 ways it benefits local government.

by / May 15, 2013

The first weekend in June, civic-minded technologists nationwide will participate in a large-scale hackathon event called the National Day of Civic Hacking, in which several federal agencies will present specific technology challenges for participants to tackle.

During the event, entrepreneurs, software developers and other technologists are asked to use publicly available data sets to develop solutions for the benefit of everyday citizens.

In an effort to encourge participation, one event partner -- Code for America -- released a list of 10 reasons why civic hacking is good for cities:

1. Civic hacking makes room for innovation. Cities nationwide host weekly events in which local government officials and volunteers -- developers and designers, for instance -- connect and collaborate on apps and technologies that ultimately make their communities work better. Opening up the data and inviting civic hackers to have their way with it allows for varying perspectives -- and solutions -- to a problem.

2. It engages citizens in governance and creative problem solving. Take San Diego’s Code for America Brigade Captain, Jeff Johnson, who spoke to the city council about "participatory budgeting and how transparency, crowdsourced community input, and crowdfunding projects could tie in."

3. Civic hacking encourages economic opportunity. New York City's BigApps 2013 competition is a prime example of this. The city hosts the event for three main reasons: to stimulate development of apps that improve both transparency and access to information; to encourage both innovation and creation of intellectual property that has commercial potential; and to use tech to solve challenges.

4. It provides insight into government decision-making. Take Open Budget Oakland, an app that easily lets citizens see how money is allocated in different city departments.

5. It facilitates community service. Through a program called Adopt-a, in which citizens take responsibility for communal infrastructures by adopting them, residents of Boston and Anchorage have helped shovel out fire hydrants, and Honolulu residents have checked tsunami sirens.

6. Civic hacking teaches new technology skills. No matter the exact type of civic hacking event, those who are participating are learning new skills such as GitHub, GIS and data visualization.

7. It creates a broad network of civic hackers. The civic hacking movement is spreading rapidly across the country, and as it does, civic-minded volunteers connect to share stories and collaborate on projects.

8. It helps citizens serve themselves. "Whether it’s helping a neighbor get rid of a possum camped out in their trash or shoveling the sidewalk during a snowstorm, civic hacking is both the technology and the action of citizens working together," Code for America writes.

9. Civic hacking helps government manage tech-related expectations. When it comes to mobile Web technology, consumers' expectations are relatively high, while local government’s resources are simultaneously low. As Code for America points out, even in good times, we don’t expect that government can keep up with technology they way most would like -- but this is where civic hacking comes in. It helps people understand what’s doable and what isn’t.

10. It connects technology and non-tech groups. One the most important things civic hacking does, Code for America says, is bring people together from different backgrounds, experiences and skill sets.

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