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Civic Hacking

Today, government and public life is being reimagined and reconfigured by a new generation of civic engineers. Only instead of using concrete and steel, they're using data and code. Some come from inside government, where they're opening up public data to outsiders and inviting developers to work with them on new kinds of services and apps. Others aren't waiting for government to act, and they're hacking on the public space using data that they scrape from government sites along with bottom-up data that the public itself generates and shares. Together they're building new ways of identifying problems and solutions, connecting the public and government, and making things work better. Meet the civic hackers.

In Kansas City, "Innovation" Means Modern Government and a Modest Budget

BY Sam Roudman | Monday, April 8 2013

Kansas City. Photo: Out.of.Focus / Flickr

Exclusively for Personal Democracy Plus subscribers: Pulling itself out from under the weight of America's economic downturn, Kansas City has done what a handful of other cities have also done in recent years: Hired a "chief innovation officer" responsible for ushering in a leaner, modernized city administration. The broad strokes are the same, but looking at Kansas City shows that "innovation" means different things in different cities. Read More

The White House Wants Civic Hackers for New Round of Presidential Innovation Fellowship

BY Miranda Neubauer | Tuesday, March 12 2013

There are five days left to apply for the second round of the Presidential Innovation Fellows program, which will continue work on projects from last year's first round and work to develop new projects. The program is geared towards innovators and entrepreneurs from the private sector, non-profits and academia who are interested in working on government projects that take an innovative approach to promoting job creation, saving lives and saving taxpayer money. Read More

Under Open Data Law, New York City Begins Herding Its Data

BY Miranda Neubauer | Monday, March 11 2013

New York City had until last Thursday to meet the first deadline set in its now year-old open data law by making data already published on nyc.gov available in machine-readable format, rather than in PDF format. According to a city press release, there are now over 1,000 data sets available on New York City's Open Data platform. The platform launched in October of 2011 with 750 data sets, 250 of which were new at the time. Since the law was signed in March of last year, New York City's Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) has been working with agencies to add 350 new data sets to the platform and worked to add regularly updated feeds to existing data sets. Read More

Courting Suburban Civic Hackers in Illinois

BY Miranda Neubauer | Monday, March 11 2013

Rockford Meet-Up (Facebook/Daniel X. O'Neil)

Writing software to make cities and towns easier to live in seems like it's been a primarily urban hobby until now, with big cities like New York, Chicago, Boston and Philadelphia hogging all the headlines. Hoping to change that, Illinois state officials and nonprofits launched the Illinois Open Technology Challenge, promising $75,000 in prize money distributed to software developers that use state or city data in applications designed for users outside of Chicago rather than inside of it. Contest organizers have moved the challenge's deadline back two weeks, to March 29. Read More

Researchers Say Making City Planning Into a Game Actually Works

BY Sam Roudman | Friday, March 1 2013

Composite illustration: Nick Judd / TechPresident

Public meetings and focus groups aren’t the only tools at the disposal of planners and communities. For help, some cities are looking to a game. As Boston and Detroit did before them, planners in Philadelphia have turned to an online game called Community PlanIt, developed by the Engagement Game Lab at Emerson College, to augment their planning process. Emerson researchers and city planners say it's working: The games are bringing more people into city planning than would otherwise be there, and a more diverse group of participants. Here's when they say it's worked, how it works, and a little bit about why. One hint: Yes, Community PlanIt has in-game rewards, but those aren't the real incentives — in-game currency is a way of tracking and understanding progress. People play to help improve their communities, researchers say. Read More

WeGov

Hacking Cities With Open Data and Minecraft

BY David Eaves | Tuesday, February 19 2013

I'm excited about how a new set of low cost tools — Minecraft and open data — seem to be increasing the opportunity space for people to rethink their city. Read More

WeGov

Can Social Software Change the World? Loomio Just Might

BY Micah L. Sifry | Monday, February 18 2013

The Loomio mascot

After nearly fifty years of development and roughly twenty years of mass adoption, the Internet hasn't created many truly useful tools for groups. We may live in the age of "ridiculously easy group formation," but if you've spent any time as part of a group, you know that all the most popular internet tools --email, list-servs, blogs, chats, and wikis --basically suck at group coordination. None of these tools are built to make it easy for large groups to make decisions together. But a new upstart from New Zealand called Loomio, born in the fertile ashes of the Occupy movement, may have cracked the code. Read More

"A Whole Lot of Things All at the Same Time:" A Q&A with Baltimore CIO Chris Tonjes

BY Sam Roudman | Thursday, February 14 2013

Baltimore at night. Photo: ebmorse / Flickr

Exclusively for Personal Democracy Plus subscribers: Baltimore has a thriving tech community and a top-level leadership that has made moves over the years towards embracing a bigger role for technology in civic life. But the city has also dealt with its share of challenges, like internal discord in City Hall, a leadership switch after Baltimore's previous chief information officer left under a cloud of scandal, and a small budget in a city now synonymous — thanks to "The Wire" — with crime and political infighting. Baltimore's new CIO, Chris Tonjes, took office last July. He spoke with TechPresident's Sam Roudman about where the city stands on civic technology and where he wants to go from here. Read More

Two Civic Hackers On Why Open Government Isn't That Hard

BY Nick Judd | Wednesday, February 13 2013

Civic hacking — using technology to improve or subvert anything that's wrong, broken, or just not good enough about the way politics and government work — is hard. It can be frustrating. But it's often also fun, two civic hackers told me today, and just because it's hard doesn't mean it's not worth doing. Read More

Mark Headd and Ryan Resella Talk About the Upside of Civic Hacking

BY Nick Judd | Wednesday, February 13 2013

In response to this post I wrote yesterday, Philadelphia Chief Data Officer Mark Headd and Ryan Resella, a senior engineer at Upworthy and a veteran of Obama 2012 and Code for America, tell me I'm raining on a grand ... Read More

Five Pieces of Advice For New Civic Hackers

BY Nick Judd | Tuesday, February 12 2013

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation is getting ready to invest a lot of money in the idea that technology can help scrape the rust from the corroded gears of American democracy. This being our jam at techPresident, I'm going to put on my editor's hat and editorialize: If you become involved and decide to enter the field of civic hacking, here are five things you ought to know. Read More

WeGov

CivicOpen: New Name, Old Idea

BY David Eaves | Monday, February 11 2013

Here are a few things open government advocates should remember if they don't want their open-source efforts to repeat past failures. Read More

EveryBlock Shuts Down

BY Sam Roudman | Thursday, February 7 2013

The early hyperlocal news and information portal EveryBlock announced its closing today. The site was founded by Adrian Holovaty in 2007 with a $1.1 million grant from the Knight Foundation. It was bought by msnbc.com in 2009, which was in turn acquired by NBC News last year. "As we refined our larger strategy for NBC News Digital and dug more into the financials, we came to the conclusion it was not a fit," wrote Vivian Schiller, Senior Vice President and Chief Digital Officer for NBC Universal, in an email to techPresident. "Hyperlocal is not part of our focus for the future," she added. Read More

Once Relics of a City's Past, Now in Plans for a Digital Future

BY Sam Roudman | Tuesday, February 5 2013

In the 1900s, these tunnels hauled freight under downtown Chicago. Will they carry fiber-optic cable next? Photo: Wikimedia

Exclusively for Personal Democracy Plus: As leading city governments across the country consider how to approach the Internet age, they're taking the concept of "adaptive reuse" to a new frontier by thinking of new ways to turn old standbys like payphones or disused rail tunnels into new pieces of digital infrastructure. Read More

Open Docket, an Open Government Tool for Small Towns and Cities

BY Sam Roudman | Monday, February 4 2013

In small towns, getting civic information can be a mess. Figuring out the history or status of a request for a new stop sign can require a slog through weeks or months of PDF files of meeting agendas, minutes, and reports. Is the information public? Yes. Is it accessible? No. Sean Roche lives in Newton, Mass., population 85,000, and he's hoping to solve that with Open Docket, an open-source project he's launched to provide a better way to track the lawmaking goings-on of small cities and towns.

Read More

A TechPresident Podcast: Political Innovation vs. the Greater Good

BY Nick Judd | Friday, February 1 2013

In this week's techPresident Podcast: Can so-called "big data," or data-driven persuasion, improve politics for everyone? Or is it just the province of a wealthy few? Join the conversation with your comments. Read More

White House Announces "National Day of Civic Hacking"

BY Nick Judd | Tuesday, January 22 2013

The White House blog is hosting a post that designates June 1-2 for a National Day of Civic Hacking. Read More

With Sunlight and MySociety Grants, Google.org Signals Interest in Civic Technology

BY Miranda Neubauer | Wednesday, January 16 2013

Google.org announced today that it would be providing $3.7 million in funding to the Sunlight Foundation* and mySociety for their work on technological solutions for civic innovation. Read More

What Philadelphia's New "Director of Civic Technology" Is There to Do

BY Nick Judd | Tuesday, January 15 2013

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter's administration continues its own experiment in building a tech-savvy City Hall by appointing a "director of civic technology." Tim Wisniewski, 24, will move to the role from a position as assistant city managing director. He has been part of the city government since January 2012, and served prior to that as the executive director of a nonprofit working to improve commerce in the business corridor of a low-income neighborhood. While working for the city, he was the project manager on development of a mobile application for the city's 311 non-emergency services system. Read More

How Open Source Civic Technology Helped Flu Vaccinations Go Viral

BY Sam Roudman | Tuesday, January 15 2013

Photo: rocknroll_guitar / Flickr

In the middle of what might be the worst flu season in a decade, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino declared a public health emergency — and civic hackers found a way to help the cause. With help from Code for America volunteers, the Boston Mayor's Office of New Urban Mechanics was able to repurpose a Chicago app that maps free vaccination locations in little more than a day, just in time for a weekend vaccination campaign at 24 locations. The app's journey from Chicago to Boston is a model of intra-civic partnership. Read More

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