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What’s New in Civic Tech: Local Groups Prep for National Day of Civic Hacking

Plus, civic technologists in Austin, Texas, host annual budget party; NYC Planning Labs celebrates its first anniversary; San Antonio concludes its first civic tech startup weekend; and the NYC CTO’s office releases a glossary of common civic tech terms.

by / July 19, 2018

On Aug. 11, civic tech groups across the country will simultaneously hold meetups, hackathons and other events as part of the 2018 National Day of Civic Hacking, meant to encourage tech projects that improve communities.

This marks the sixth year for the event, which is organized in part by Code for America, a nonpartisan and nonprofit group that works year-round on tech projects to make governmental services simpler and easier to use for constituents. The date for this event is set for Saturday, Aug. 11, and planners at the local level are encouraged to register events here.

On its website for the day, the organization notes that the event is designed for “people who love their city and want their cities to be better places,” subsequently offering examples of who might participate, including “community leaders, coders, government staff, designers, non-profit employees, data scientists and anyone with a stake in their government.”

Broadening the annual event to be inclusive of more than just technologists was a focus last year. While the name implies hacking, organizers stressed that anyone from journalists to concerned citizens would be welcomed, and that their skill sets may very well prove useful in unexpected ways.

Code for America’s page about the National Day of Civic Hacking also contains resources for organizers, background about what civic tech is and a link to an informational Slack channel.

Civic Technologists in Austin, Texas, Host Annual Budget Party

In Austin, Texas — a city famous for SXSW parties and late nights on boozy Sixth Street — is gearing up for a different sort of party: an annual budget party hosted by local civic tech groups.

The third annual budget party is set for Tuesday, Aug. 14 at the city’s Capital Factory entrepreneurs and tech incubator. It is a collaboration between Open Austin, Austin Monitor and Austin Tech Alliance. The event page for this party describes it as “a web application that teaches about Austin's city budget and invites people to remix how departments and services are funded.” Individuals interested in attending can RSVP here.

Attendees will also be invited to learn more about participatory budgeting, as well as about how participatory budgeting can lead to a more transparent and collaborative governmental budget process. One of the central goals for the event is to create a fun and accessible way to gain a better understanding of how Austin balances its budget and how the community can impact it.

NYC Planning Labs Celebrates One Year

Speaking of parties, NYC Planning Labs has a birthday coming up.

NYC Planning Labs, which works with New York City’s urban planners to help modernize governmental and community technologies, is about to turn one. In celebration of the anniversary, the group recently noted on its Twitter feed that it has shipped eight projects in the past year, all of which were built in-house.

Of those projects, the first was the NYC Planning Community District Profiles, which was a mobile responsive community site designed to serve as a gateway to data, maps and other resources that provide info about New York City’s 59 community districts.

NYC Planning Labs is a division of NYC Department of City Planning, one that the group notes on its website was initially inspired by the federal tech consultancy 18F. The group’s exact mission has been and continues to be “to build lightweight impactful tools with the agency’s divisions as clients, and to be open, vocal and inclusive about the modern technologies and processes used.” 

San Antonio Concludes Civic Tech Startup Weekend

San Antonio recently concluded its first Civic Tech Startup Weekend, passing out prizes designed to help develop some of the projects that grew from the event.

The first-place team, for example, won a cadre of prizes that included $1,000 in development hours from a local tech developer, three months at a local tech incubator, one year of free WordPress hosting and more. Second- and third-place teams, as well as one honorable mention, also received prizes.

The winning team was Urban Paws, which seeks to bring shelter animals into businesses to combat mental health struggles and decrease stress in the workplace. First proposed by a school teacher, the team also consisted of civic technologists and students from a local university. 
San Antonio is home to a burgeoning startup ecosystem, one that it is hoping to help develop through a program that includes municipal government, startups and academia. This week is in the service of growing that ecosystem as well, and organizers noted on the Civic Tech SA website that they plan to repeat it.

NYC CTO’s Office Posts Glossary of Civic Tech Terms

Also in New York City, the chief technology officer’s office recently posted a glossary of terms that would almost certainly be helpful to anyone even mildly interested in civic tech or the government technology space.

The glossary contains nearly 20 terms that run the gamut from seemingly simple — like broadband — to the more complex concepts like blockchain. The glossary is exactly what it sounds like: it posts terms commonly used in the aforementioned circles and lists their definitions in plain language.

It is also open source in a sense, in that there are links for users who want to debate the accuracy of a definition or contribute additional terms that were left out of the first batch.

The writers of the glossary noted at the start that it “is our attempt to clarify some terms that are currently fundamental to our work and often confusing to the public (and occasionally to us).”

One suspects it would also be a helpful resource for enterprising reporters who frequently write about civic tech, too.

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Zack Quaintance Associate Editor

Zack Quaintance is the associate editor for Government Technology. His background includes writing for daily newspapers across the country and developing content for a software company in Austin, Texas. He is now based in Washington, D.C. He can be reached via email.

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