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White House Drums Up Support for National Hacking Event

30 cities across the country are planning events for the National Day of Civic Hacking in June.

by / January 23, 2013

Civic-minded technologists from Alexandria, Va., to Honolulu are gearing up for a large-scale hackathon event that will take place the first weekend in June.

According to a White House Office of Science and Technology Policy blog post by Brian Forde and Nicholas Skytland, several federal agencies including the Census Bureau, the Department of Labor and NASA will present specific technology challenges for participants to tackle during the hackathon.

Dubbed the National Day of Civic Hacking, organizers invite entrepreneurs, software developers and other technologists to use publicly available data sets to develop solutions for the benefit of everyday citizens. Those new to hacking are also encouraged to get involved. Partners for the event include Random Hacks of Kindness and Code for America.

"This is an opportunity for citizens in every town and city across the nation to roll up their sleeves, get involved, and work together to improve our society by cultivating an ecosystem for innovation and change," the White House blog post reads.

Among the large cities involved is Chicago, led by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, whose open data efforts have received considerable media attention.

"Part of this commitment to open data and government transparency is staying deeply engaged with the civic developer community," said Chicago Chief Information and Data Officer Brett Goldstein, "and joining this national day of civic hacking is an exciting and natural extension of this relationship."

The nationally coordinated event aims to advance entrepreneurship, transparency, participation and collaboration through the use of open data, open source and code development, according to the website.

To date, 30 cities have signed on to host some kind of event related to the National Day of Civic Hacking. Organizers, who specify that individual events can be as unique as their host cities, are hopeful that a minimum of one city per state will participate.

Current participants in the National Day of Civic Hacking, according to the event website:
Alexandria, Va.; Ann Arbor, Mich.; Asheville, N.C.; Atlanta, Ga.; Augusta, Ga; Austin, Texas; Bend, Ore.; Boston, Mass.; Chicago, Ill.; Columbus, Ga.; Denver, Colo.; Detroit, Mich.; Grand Rapids, Mich.; Honolulu, Hawaii; Lexington, Ky.; Macon, Ga.; Miami, Fla.; Milwaukee, Wis.; New York City, N.Y.; Oakland, Calif.; Palo Alto, Calif.; Philadelphia, Pa.; Portland, Ore.; Sacramento, Calif.; San Diego, Calif.; San Francisco, Calif.; Savannah, Ga.; Seattle, Wash.; Syracuse, N.Y.; and Tucson, Ariz.

Asheville, N.C., IT Services Director Jonathan Feldman told Government Technology via email that based on the success of his city's Open Data Day last October, he's confident that the Asheville community will rally to make the city's participation in the National Day of Civic Hacking a success.

"That's the beauty of it," Feldman said of the groundswell of community enthusiasm surrounding local open data efforts. "We've really transitioned from priming the pump from the city government level into watching some really engaged citizens call the shots." 

Palo Alto, Calif., about 30 miles southeast of San Francisco, is one of five California cities to join the effort thus far. CIO Jonathan Reichental explained that Palo Alto was already planning hackathons for 2013, building on the success of the city's ongoing open data efforts. When they found out about the White House-led National Day of Civic Hacking, they chose to hold their next event during that time. 

Reichental went on to emphasize that while the focus of these events is often on the end product, like an application that might result from a civic gathering of developers, there is much more to be gained. "The fact that you bring community together and people together and they connect in all new ways, that's great for the community and that's great for the partnership between government and the community," he said. "We’re breaking new ground, which is why we're so excited by it and why we're so supportive." 
Photo of Asheville, N.C., from Shutterstock

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Noelle Knell Editor

Government Technology editor Noelle Knell has more than 15 years of writing and editing experience, covering public projects, transportation, business and technology. A California native, she has worked in both state and local government, and is a graduate of the University of California, Davis, with majors in political science and American history. She can be reached via email and on Twitter.

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