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National Civic Hacking Event Takes Many Forms Locally

The federal government is opening up data sets and encouraging local innovators to harness their tech creativity this weekend for the public good.

If you’re looking for evidence that hacking for a cause is sweeping the nation, this weekend’s National Day of Civic Hacking, which boasts 95 affiliated events across the country, may just convince you.

The White House led event, June 1-2, aims to unite everyday citizens, coders, hackers and entrepreneurs to build civic solutions leveraging government data.

Referencing Americans’ can-do spirit with Rosie the Riveter imagery, the event is described as an opportunity to advance the principles of transparency, participation and collaboration. “The event will leverage the expertise and entrepreneurial spirit of those outside federal, state and local government to drive meaningful, technology-based solutions for federal, state and local government,” the website reads.

A number of challenges are being issued in conjunction with the event, by agencies like NASA, the Census Bureau, FEMA and the USDA. Event participants are asked to use data sets from these agencies to create new solutions that will have impacts on local communities. Home-grown iterations of the National Day of Civic Hacking will take many different forms across the country.

Future-Focused Hawaiians
The state of Hawaii recently passed an open data initiative that takes effect July 1, requiring the CIO to develop policies and procedures for implementation. The new law serves as tangible proof of Hawaii’s commitment to transparency, also evidenced at the local level.

Hawaii’s answer to the national hacking event, Hack to the Future, builds on a series of local events that have galvanized Hawaiians in support of civic solutions built on open data. “The community of civic innovators in Hawaii continues to grow, and it's encouraging to see collaborations, events like Hack to the Future, flourish between government and engaged citizens,” said Burt Lum, executive director of Hawaii Open Data, via email. 

Crowdsourcing Newark’s Website
Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker is inviting local technophiles to compete for a shot at a $15,000 contract to redesign the city’s website in conjunction with the national event. As part of its Build in Brick City program that encourages civic-minded innovators to contribute to the city’s high-tech evolution, contestants can start coding on June 1 and present website ideas to Booker on June 9.

Will Code for Food
Committing early on to being part of the National Day of Civic Hacking, Asheville, N.C.’s Hack for Food event aims to contribute solutions to a vexing local issue: food insecurity.

“It just so happens that western North Carolina is one of the most food-insecure parts of the country, so it’s a very valid thing to be working on for this area, just to address issues of hunger and food access,” Asheville GIS analyst Scott Barnwell explained to Government Technology last March.

According to the event website, participants in Hack for Food are asked to align their activities with the stated goals of the Asheville Buncombe Food Policy Council, an organization dedicated to ensuring that local residents have access to nutritious, locally grown food throughout the year.

Health-Oriented Collaboration in Milwaukee
Milwaukee’s event for the National Day of Civic Hacking is focused on preventative health. “The goal of BuildHealth3 is to raise awareness about both the need and opportunity for innovation in the preventative health space,” organizer Tim Syth explained, adding that improvements in various arenas, such as education, transportation and housing, can contribute to improved preventative health for the community. That breadth illustrates how every facet of the community can bring value to the conversation around preventative health.

According to Syth, director of collaborative project space Bucketworks as well as the BuildHealth organization, the hope is that the event will engage a broad cross-section of community members, extending far beyond traditional health-care providers. “The long-term goal is to make Milwaukee a place where the community decided to spend its health dollars on keeping people healthy,” he added.

The Birthplace of Hacking

The Bay Area’s technology hub around Silicon Valley will be well represented this weekend, with two events scheduled in San Francisco, one in Oakland, one at Google headquarters in Mountain View and a CityCamp event in Palo Alto.

Like many other cities with active tech communities, Palo Alto’s event builds on the success of past hackathon-style initiatives. “We want to engage lots of folks to build apps that will provide lots more value to our community,” Palo Alto CIO Jonathan Reichental told Government Technology earlier this year. “This notion of hacking is now core to how we believe we can get results,” he added.

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Noelle Knell is the executive editor for e.Republic, responsible for setting the overall direction for e.Republic’s editorial platforms, including Government Technology, Governing, Industry Insider, Emergency Management and the Center for Digital Education. She has been with e.Republic since 2011, and has decades of writing, editing and leadership experience. A California native, Noelle 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.