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National Day of Civic Hacking Widens Reach in Second Year

The civic hacking celebration goes international for 2014.

Last year thousands participated, hundreds of civic apps were created and myriad civic hackers collaborated with government agencies and localities across the U.S. This year, the National Day of Civic Hacking is back, and it will expand its scope internationally in 79 cities and 98 civic hacking events from May 31 to June 1.

“We’re really trying to provide an avenue between government and citizens, and this is what civic hacking is really about,” said Neisan Massarrat, communications director at the Khadem Foundation, a non-profit civic collaboration group leading the event series — with support from Code for America and SecondMuse, an innovation and collaboration agency.

New additions for this year’s event series will include opening participation up internationally for hackathons in China, Australia, France, Spain and India, among others. Massarrat said the number of localities and events are likely to grow beyond 100 with more than 11,000 participants as more participating organizers sign up to spearhead their own hackathons and civic tech events.  
“This year is going to be much bigger,” Massarrat said, “We’re calling out to everyone around the country to participate, from entrepreneurs to designers to civil servants so they really engage for the weekend while connecting with neighbors to improve their communities.”

As with last year, government agencies and departments will be joining in, either by opening up data sets for developers to work with or by hosting hackathons -- or both. Agency backgrounds are diverse and spread across a wide array of disciplines. According the event’s official website, there are currently 14 government organizations that have volunteered as event hosts or facilitators, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), among others.

A contributing sponsor, the Knight Foundation, a media and civic tech philanthropy organization, supplied the event with $150,000, a donation announced May 1, to be distributed by Khadem to event organizers to facilitate events. Knight plans to hold a special challenge as well, one which pits hackers against the hurdles facing America’s changing labor force of independent freelancers, entrepreneurs and independent workers.

“Currently more than 20 percent of workers are self-employed, and this trend is predicted to continue in the coming years,” said Carol Coletta, Knight’s vice president for community and national initiatives.

Considering the self-employed’s unique challenges, Coletta said Knight hopes the tech community can provide solutions in three specific areas. The first, matching skilled workers with jobs; the second, creating connections within the increasingly distributed and virtual workforce; and third, to aid in the development of professional and personal support networks.

“For Knight’s Community and National Initiatives program, the events get the tech community — which is one of the groups most affected by the changing modes of work — talking about one of the questions that’s core to building successful cities,” she said.

Examples from last year’s National Day of Civic Hacking  include a project to harness the White House’s “We the People” petitions system API so developers can build apps using data from submitted petitions and signatures; a Peace Corps application to allow its volunteers and teachers to connect in real time; and a project involving the Digital Public Library of America that used its library datasets containing more than 2.4 million records to create visualizations, mapping applications and other tools to inform educators and researchers.

“This is very much based around being a civic engagement event," Massarrat said, "and it’s about really understanding that the toughest challenges are not for one community alone to solve."

Jason Shueh is a former staff writer for Government Technology magazine.