Blogging for America

10 Ways Civic Hacking is Good for Cities

At Code for America, we’re getting excited for the National Day of Civic Hacking; the weekend is a galvanizing moment in our ongoing movement to call citizens to action. We want citizens everywhere to help their cities work better, through technology. Why do we think this is so important?

We put together a list of 10 reasons why civic hacking is good for cities:

1. Creates space for innovation (for government and citizens)

Every week in cities across the country, local government officials and civic-minded volunteers (developers, designers, urban planners, policy wonks, etc.) come together to collaborate on web apps and technologies to make their communities work better. In the Code for America Brigade network alone, there are regular hack nights in more than 25 cities. These hack nights create a space for government and citizens to come together to solve interesting challenges.

2. Engages digital citizens in the process of governance and creative problem solving

Civic hacking offers new opportunities for citizens and government to connect. For example, as San Diego’s Code for America Brigade Captain, Jeff Johnson spoke in front of the city council  about participatory budgeting and how transparency, crowdsourced community input, and crowdfunding projects could tie in.

3. Spurs economic opportunity

NYC BigApps 2013 competition is put on by the city to stimulate the development of applications that improve access to information and government transparency; to encourage innovation and the creation of new intellectual property with commercial potential; and to help leverage technology to solve select city challenges and problems.

4. Provides insight into government decision making

Technologies built by civic hackers such as Open Budget Oakland or Look at Cook provide deeper insight into government decision making. Open Budget Oakland is an app that allows citizens to easily dive into different allocations and departments to see how money is budgeted. Look at Cook allows the citizens of Cook County, Ill. to explore the county’s budget from 1993 to 2012 and learn how the money is being spent.

5. Enables community service through technology

Apps like Adopt-a provide new opportunities for community service through technology. Through Adopt-a, citizens claim responsibility for taking care of communal infrastructures by adopting them. Through this program, citizens have already helped shovel out fire hydrants in Boston and Anchorage, sidewalks in Chicago, and check tsunami sirens in Honolulu.

6. Teaches important new tech skills

Whether at a civic hack night, hackathons, CityCamps, and other civic hacking events, you can expect to find people learning new skills such as GitHub, GIS, data visualization.

7. Creates a broad network of civic hackers

Civic hacking is a movement that is spreading rapidly across the country. As the momentum builds, networks like the Code for America Brigade allow civic-minded volunteers to connect both within and between cities to share stories and collaborate on projects. At just over a year since we started Brigade this is what our members have reported as the most valuable asset of the program.

8. Helps citizens serve themselves

Government is often best when it provides the framework for citizens working together to solve their own issues. Such is the case with technologies like Citizens Connect and Adopt-a. Whether it’s helping a neighbor get rid of a possum camped out in their trash or shoveling the sidewalk during a snowstorm, civic hacking is both the technology and the action of citizens working together.

9. Helps government manage expectations around technology

The average consumer’s expectations when it comes to mobile web technology is at an all time high. At the same time, our local government’s resources are at austerity levels. Even in the best of times we don’t have any expectations that government will have the ability to keep up with technology they way most people would like. Civic hacking helps people understand what’s doable and what isn’t.

10. Connects technology & non-technology groups together

One the most important things civic hacking does is bring people together from different backgrounds, experiences, and skill sets. It’s often the case that technologists and non-technologists are not getting enough access to one another to swap perspectives. Events like National Day of Civic Hacking, Code Across America, CityCamp, and weekly Hack Nights facilitate these important connections.

[Your example here]

We’ want to hear how civic hacking has been good for your city. Let us know on our Brigade Tumblr: http://codeforamerica.tumblr.com/submit

Questions? Comments? Hit us up @codeforamerica.

Code for America Labs, Inc is a non-partisan, non-political 501(c)(3) organization. Content is licensed through Creative Commons.