Q&A from the Campaign Trail

As we round out the second month of the Great American Civic Hack we checked in four of our national repos: LocalWiki, OpenTreeMap, CKAN, and Councilmatic. Check out what they had to say on the top issues they’d like to get resolved during the campaign and the greatest challenge about collaborating on open source civic software.

What is the top issue you’d like to get resolved during the campaign?

LocalWiki: “We’d like to finish the first draft of our responsive theme and get the infobox (structured data) branch merged and improved. But more broadly, we want more people to get involved!”

Open Tree Map: “Support cross-platform logins. We’ve had many users express interest in allowing people to login with Facebook, Twitter, or Google. It’s a great idea, but we’ve not had a chance to build it yet. Enabling login with Facebook, Twitter, and Google would also assist in future efforts to expand how people can share their activities (adding a tree, watering a tree, etc.) via those social media platforms.”

CKAN” “We’ve done a lot of work to improve the user experience in CKAN 2.0 compared to CKAN 1.8 for both data publishers and data re-users. We’ve made a lot of improvements already but there is still more to do. We have some UX issues tagged here and it would be great to have some help with this.”

Councilmatic: “The issue I’d most like to see get done during this period is create a Councilmatic project page. It’s something that’s not too difficult with the right mix of skills, and would be great for the project as a whole.”

What is the greatest challenge when collaborating on open source, civic software?

LocalWiki: “I think the biggest difference between most traditional open source development and civic, open source development is that our software aims to solve a real world problem that may be pretty removed from ecosystem our programs are running in. If you’re making an open-source cluster management platform, your target audience is pretty much exactly the same as the folks doing the development. So the challenge becomes keeping really geeky things out and building what people really need.”

Open Tree Map: “We’ve found that the greatest challenge when collaborating on open source, civic software is growing a user community that continues to derive value from the software and find it worth maintaining and adjusting based on feedback from developers, organizations, and the general public. Regular, ongoing maintenance is key to the long-term success of a useful project, but it also takes time to build and support a community interested in that type of commitment to the code.”

CKAN “Often different groups of collaborators have quite varied requirements. Making sure that the system can support these differing requirements without becoming bloated is definitely a challenge. We’ve addressed this by keeping the core of CKAN lean and then creating an extension system that can be used to create functionality for specific use cases.”

Councilmatic “The most challenging thing for me in collaborating on an open source civic project is that these projects are most commonly all-volunteer. In particular, my free time to work on the projects often comes in spurts. This is alright for projects on which I am just a contributor, but as a primary or sole maintainer, I find I’m not always punctually responsive. Also, because of time constraints imposed by volunteer work, important parts of the software development process like user research are often casualties of the process. For a civic project that scratches the developer’s own itch this is alright, since they are a primary user. But for projects that are meant to reach a wider audience, or for which the developer just isn’t a part of the target audience, it’s a pretty big omission. I would love for me or someone else to devote more time to observing how people actually use Councilmatic, and finding out exactly how people want to use it.”

Find out more about the seven repos and how you can get involved on the Great American Civic Hack website.

Questions? Comments? Hit us up @codeforamerica.

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