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Hack for Change: The U.S. Government Embraces Civic Hackers


With coding promising to be a second language of the next generation, it's about time we rebranded "hacking" as a tool for good, not just breaking into computers and stuff.
Enter National Day of Civic Hacking, held this past weekend. The nationwide hackathon for good encouraged cities all over the U.S. to come up with ideas and projects to tackle some of society's biggest problems and strengthen local communities.
The event was sponsored by Intel and organized by the U.S. government, Code for America, and Random Hacks of Kindness and other nonprofits. Nearly 100 hackathons took place simultaneously with some 6,000 participants, including NASA and FEMA. There was the "Thinkathon" in Pittsburgh, "CityCamp" in Raleigh, "Pain Pitch" in Detroit, Upstart Business Journal reported. At the White House, developers built open-source apps and data visualization tools that will be available on the We the People site.
The event was a way to leverage "big data" to create solutions to big problems. Leading up to the event, government agencies like U.S. Census Bureau as well as local groups provided many datasets of information to be used to build civic solutions—data on cities, neighborhoods, crimes, public transit, climate, and so on. With access to this information, engineers, designers, and creatives went to work. A few selected hackers will be invited to visit the White House to share their projects. We'll stay tuned to hear what innovations were born out of last weekend.
Civic hacking isn't a new idea, but it's certainly a growing trend, and the Obama administration jumping on the bandwagon will no doubt help propel it to the mainstream. In a post on Medium, civic designer Jake Levitas gives a wonderfully thoughtful description of exactly what civic hacking means:
What began as a niche theory about the potential to improve government using technology has quickly expanded to focus more on changing the culture of government to work more effectively and creatively with its citizens. Technology can often be a part of improving this citizen-government interface, but it’s only part of the change we’re seeing. These days I see just as many community leaders, architects, environmentalists, artists, and other professionals coming out to events under the purview of civic hacking as coders and designers.
He concludes that civic hacking is the future of civic engagement—"people working together quickly and creatively to help improve government."
In a blog post announcing the National Day of Civic Hacking, the White House called it a chance to unleash the can-do American spirt: "This is an opportunity for citizens in every town and city across the Nation to roll up their sleeves, get involved, and work together to improve our society by cultivating an ecosystem for innovation and change."
Code image via Shutterstock\n

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