Our 2018 National Day of Civic Hacking event was one of the best we’ve ever held, both for the commitment of the nonprofit organizations who brought us event day challenges, and for the fantastic team of developers and civic technologists who turned out for our August 11 event and continue working on the projects today.
Despite the late development of having to cancel our hoped for St. Petersburg event, most of the nearly 60 registered participants gamely switched over to our Tampa event, held at the Industrious Center and generously supported by The Ledger , Covered Web Services and Inside the Box Catering.
Flipping the Script
In the past, our biggest challenge has been securing project champions and the necessary data for hosting an effective National Day of Civic Hacking with some serious long term positive impact. Despite best intentions, government engagement was limited and the necessary information for doing suggested projects was hard to come by or incomplete, something that often didn’t become clear until after many long meetings.
So this year, we flipped the script a bit, and instead of going to our local governments, we invited them to come to us, and “pitch” projects and agency needs. We also extended the call for projects to local nonprofits and put three reasonable requirements on the application to address the biggest previous challenges from the get-go, asking that submitting organizations:
- Have clear objectives including how the project will improve services or support for citizens, and/or can show cost savings to communities;
- Ensure they can provide the necessary APIs or other relevant data and information volunteers need to create solutions and;
- Commit an agency “champion” to the project who will work directly with NDCH teams before, during and after the event to help them provide the solution the agency is looking for.
We made it clear that projects didn’t have to be big or complex to be meaningful or helpful and could include anything from seeking help with improved user interfaces to help with databases, civic apps, help portals and more.
Then we sent out announcements and invitations to every local government office we could identify contacts for across the three main counties of the Tampa Bay area, along with a variety of nonprofits, large and small. There was some interest by a couple of counties, but only one municipal project was submitted by a local city department , which was ultimately withdrawn because the agency couldn’t commit anyone to being on site during NDCH.
Past experience has shown us that without a project champion, developers can’t get the information they need to address challenges. So while that was a little disappointing, it was less disappointing than not being able to deliver a viable resource for the city because we had neither the necessary information or agency representatives to provide input and guidance.
So we invited that agency to work with us at a later date, and accepted three great nonprofit projects:
- Metropolitan Ministries – to help develop an intelligent chatbot to better direct those in need to most appropriate services
- Winners’ Resource Center – A more efficient resource for non-profits and companies to share their information with those in need in the Tampa Bay area
- Pasco Agents for Change – helping this newly created nonprofit develop an advocacy website and tools to aid their efforts to improve diversity and inclusion in Pasco County Public Schools
Back Door Community Engagement
This intentional approach to NDCH, especially in a community like ours where it’s been a struggle to engage local governments, proved an immense boon, raising fresh awareness of what Code for Tampa Bay does through social media interaction with the participating nonprofits, and creating a reliable platform for actually delivering on good solutions for each of them.
If we can’t work with local governments, working with nonprofits that provide community services that augment government services is the next best thing, and more likely an equally good thing. It also provides a nonthreatening demonstration of what Code for America Brigades do, and we’re hopeful will help pave the way for more engagement with local government and other nonprofits down the road.
The actual event was a joy! In the past we had run NDCH as a low key competition, recognizing top projects with small awards. But when Code for Tampa Bay Brigade recently reorganized, we decided we wanted to remove any competitive elements from this year’s NDCH and refocus it as a day of volunteerism with the focus on the community groups we were trying to help. The real winners should be the agencies we were working for, and the real prize implementing the solutions for their nonprofit needs, so they can better serve our communities.
There were absolutely no complaints among the nearly 50 participants who joined in our 2018 NDCH event. We also made sure everyone knew that the intent was not to complete any of the projects in one day, but to try to finish the day with some solid frameworks, from which the finished projects would be built over the coming weeks.
All of this completely changed, for the better, the tone and experience of our National Day of Civic Hacking. The event was relaxed, fun, and focused. Teams were happy to have nonprofit leads with them throughout the day, and the nonprofits were excited about the energy and expertise of their teams, as they worked together throughout the day. By the end of the day, all three projects were well along, and teams had committed to finishing the projects both through weekly hack nights we started the following week, as well as working remotely.
In Part II, of our NDCH update, we’ll take a closer look at the projects and the participants.
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