Brigade Spotlight: A Summer of Civic Hacking

Per usual during seasonal transitions we pause to reflect what passed in the season before and what’s ahead. For us this was the Summer of Civic Hacking.

It kicked-off the weekend of June 1, the first-ever National Day of Civic Hacking when thousands of people gathered in 90+ locations to learn about, celebrate and hack on civic data, civic APIs and open source, civic apps. Brigades across the country jumped in to participate, with 34 of the 95 NDoCH events organized by Code for America’s Brigades and Fellows.

From there the Brigade went into The Great American Civic Hack, our summer campaign for social coding on open source, civic software. The campaign, which wrapped at the end of August, was about encouraging Brigade coders and designers to support some of our favorite open source, civic software. We also used it as a platform to encourage National Day participants to keep the momentum going. The Great American Civic Hack quickly became The Great Civic Hack in practice if not in name when we added CKAN (U.K.) as a campaign repo and when contributors from outside the U.S. started participating.

During the campaign we closed 385 issues and there were 69 new forks.

Silver Fork Award

To incentivize participation in The Great American Civic Hack we created the Silver Fork Award. This award is given to dedicated civic hackers who participate in Brigade campaigns and activities for open source, civic software. The award is primarily given to coders, designers, and other users of GitHub. The primary achievement of awardees is pull requests merged.

I’m happy to award the first-ever Silver Forks to the following Great Civic Hack contributors:

Special shout out to Tylor Louis, a Computer Engineering student at UCLA who interned with CfA this summer and contributed to the Brigade site.

Campaign Lessons Learned

The Great Civic Hack was a campaign we’d been wanting to try for a while. The main point of the Great Civic Hack was to make better software as a community and by that measure, we succeeded. We closed issues. For open source, civic software that may be the only measure that matters.

But while observing the campaign, it also became clear that many repos were predominantly supported by contributors who were owners and who typically were already being paid for time spent coding on their project. The Brigade website was the exception, with most contributors being volunteers. A hypothesis for this outcome is that our members are familiar with the repo and could therefore could get heads down more quickly. Another is that Brigaders felt ownership for the repo and opted to work on it because of this. In any case, we’d like to have seen the same momentum and activity for the other repos, that we saw with the Brigade.

If we do this campaign again, a few fixes could include: an On Air Hangout or webinar introducing the repos and discussing issues they’d like to see closed during the campaign; implementing a uniform way to tag campaign issues across all repos to make them more accessible to contributors looking to get started quickly; and more explicit ways for those with design and UX skills to contribute.

Questions? Comments? Hit us up @codeforamerica.

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