On June 1, citizens in nearly 100 cities will be hosting events to celebrate the National Day of Civic Hacking. Organized through a cross-sector coalition, this day is a galvanizing moment for our ongoing movement to call citizens into action to help their cities work better through technology.
As we’ve seen in the past few years, there’s tremendous capacity in the community that city governments can tap into—they just have to come together. That’s what our Brigades do every day. They’ll be hosting more than 30 of the events on the National Day of Civic Hacking.
The organizing groups already have a growing list of challenges, which cities can take advantage of, and I thought I’d offer a couple of suggestions for opportunities we’ve identified at the local level.
If you read the list, you’ll sense a theme: I’m asking you to build atop or support existing platforms and institutions. That’s my bias. I believe that as a community, we are stronger when we are working together, building block by block towards a shared infrastructure for innovation. (And let’s be fair, when you leverage existing tools or platforms, you’re saving yourself some time…)
So here are some options:
Leverage a Civic Data Standard. Data standards are protocols by which information from different places becomes interoperable. They are basically Excel templates—but powerful ones. Once a city adopts an open data standard, not only can pre-built, civic apps be deployed, but national platforms can ingest that data, making it easily accessible.
Integrate LIVES standard: Earlier this year, with the City of San Francisco, we built a data standard for restaurant inspections (LIVES); now if a city takes its food inspection (which most cities already make publicly available online) and aligns it with the standard, companies such as Yelp can display it in their restaurant profiles. So the data goes from being hard to find, to right where you want it.
Build atop Open311 or General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS)
Stand up a civic app. Not to beat a dead horse, but don’t forget that there’s a library of great opensource civic applications, which you can deploy for your city. Here are some great examples to get you started: LocalWiki, Adopta, EarlyOakland.
Have a conversation. NDoCH is a great opportunity to talk, share ideas, and gain interest in the open government movement.
If you’re a civic hacker or community member who finds yourself talking to a public servant over lunch, be an evangelist. Discuss the importance of open civic data and data standards, share what you know about open source civic applications and civic tech start-ups, and ask about the day-to-day issues they face in their work (maybe you can stand up an app that would help).
If you’re a government official who is participating in a local event, collaborate with civic developers by sharing honestly with them the problems you are trying to solve and the tools you need. And ask the people you meet about what kind of civic data they would most like to have access to.
Document/Share Successes. After the event is over, write a blog post, Tumbl, Storify, or email update and share it with the event organizers and [email protected]. Capture the conversations you had, tell us about the tool you built and why you built it, share plans made to open new data or build on data standards. And share what went wrong and what you learned, so others can replicate your successes.
More than anything else, I’ll just ask this one thing for the National Day of Civic Hacking—let it live beyond the day. Whether it’s continuing to build an app you start that weekend, following up on a conversation, joining a hack night, or participating in a civic coding activity like the Great American Civic Hack, carry the energy of the weekend on.
Questions? Comments? Hit us up @codeforamerica.
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