Code for America brigades are pretty independent, but one day per year, they coordinate a massive event spanning several dozen cities. Here’s what to expect at the National Day of Civic Hacking, and why you should come.
In Orlando, typically, about 100 people gather downtown with their laptops, pencils, and notepads, and we work from morning to evening. It goes in four phases:
Write down an idea
First, we say hi and write ideas on cards, and form some loose consensus about where we should spend our time. Here is where you should be bold with an idea, if you have one to give. There’s nothing to prepare for here, except to have an idea of what kinds of talents you want to ask for from the people around you. Code for America suggests several challenges to steer people who are unsure what idea to suggest. National 2016 challenges:
- Applying for Food Stamps
- Applying for Affordable Housing
- Applying for your Criminal Record
- Applying for Victim Compensation
- Applying for a Business License
- Data Visualization for Obama Administration’s Promise Zones
- #DataAtWork Workforce Data Initiative
Our local 2016 challenges are:
- Pet Adoption Apps
- Orlando Walking Tours Apps
- Data feeds for event-reporting in CityGram
- Health and Human Services
- Economic Development
- Safety and Justice
When you’re surrounded by so many smart people, it can be easy to become blind to everything except the technology, and forget what we’re really working for: People. People not as well-connected, or as well-educated, or privileged as we are. These challenges aren’t meant to constrain what you work on – you still decide that – but to remind you to stay grounded in the world.
Second, we have a lightning-fast selection, where people’s interest decides what gets done. You vote with your feet, and go to what idea you like. Ideas with enough people go to a room or table, and that leads to the long phase, of working on it. Have a goal in mind for the day, and work toward it. Code for Orlando is is surprisingly informal, and since we’re all volunteers no one is coerced into boring projects. At the National Day of Civic Hacking, you can move around all you like, or sit alone in a corner.
Deadline and presentations come near the end. We gather back in the common space and show off what we accomplished that day. You should be thinking about this part during your work earlier. It might be better to pick a bite-sized chunk and complete it, instead of partial work on lots of facets of a big idea.
Finally, we relax and get to know each other better. This probably means a tasty after-work beverage and chatting. People will have questions about the project you worked on, and there will be plenty of people you didn’t meet in the morning time.
It’s kind of exhilarating to start a new project in the morning that you pick; and work with awesome, caring people all day; and have something made in the afternoon that benefits our community. You should join us.