Indianapolis is proud to have hosted its second annual civic hackathon last month, but let’s take a wider look for just a minute. Indy’s Civic Hackathon was one of 106 cities that participated in the National Civic Day of Hacking. Even several years ago, there was a “buzz” around civic innovation. A major catalyst was Code for America (CfA) that started in 2009. Since then, the movement has been steadily building spawning dozens of CfA local volunteer groups or Brigades. However, civic innovation is still a new enough concept that most people may not have heard of it before or really understand it. Here is some background.
Many traditional challenges of government are well known. The idea that government is slow, burdened with bureaucracy and not very cost effective (e.g., cost overruns of government contracts) resonate with most people. The idea of creating innovative solutions to get around these traditional problems, however, is not very well known in most circles. Most of the focus has been on open-source apps and open data because the last several years have seen a proliferation of tools to make app creation much quicker and easier. However, we must keep in mind that civic innovation isn’t just some programmers and data geeks locked away alone to create a new app.
In a great example of low-tech civic innovation, high-school students in Austin, Indiana (at the center of the recent HIV outbreak) started an HIV education program for younger students. The students have partnered with local clergy to complement the work that the CDC and Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH) are doing. The students saw the need for more accurate information and banded together to create a program that is typically the domain of ISDH. What makes this powerful is that regular people spontaneously came together to improve their own community. This is one of main principles of Open Indy Brigade: Bringing the larger community together to improve our community.
While programmers and other techies are definitely needed to create new apps, many others are also needed to enable real improvement. Open Indy Brigade also needs people who know public policy, government processes, design, project management, community organization and many other pieces that will be all brought together to solve real problems rather than to just create technology for technology’s sake.
Ali Llewellyn said it far more eloquently than I can…
“The world doesn’t really need more hackathons – heaven knows we have enough of those. It doesn’t need people’s weekends to be filled up doing other people’s work or building things that won’t go anywhere. What it does need is an empowered citizenry who takes a stake in contributing to and participating in their democracy – and doing that together. It needs communities who come together and take responsibility to answer the questions that aren’t getting answered and address the challenges that don’t have easy solutions.”
Now, hackathons do have their place and a creative, well-designed app can be a game-changer for our community. However, the MOST important piece is that many different people come together for a common goal. Open Indy Brigade sincerely hopes that YOU will come out and be a part of that community that participates in our democracy and solves challenges together. We start on July 9!