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Monday, September 29, 2014

Civic Hackathon

I had the pleasure of participating in the second Dallas Engaged Professionals (DEP) Hackathon. in short I had a great time, met some amazing people, worked on a hard problem, and pushed society forward. My team did not produce a concrete item that will go forward but I can still see future benefits for Dallas from our time spent.

All 8 challenges sounded neat and I chose #3 “ How can local government facilitate interaction between itself and its citizens?”. I knew going in that this was one  of the broadest and most difficult challenges. I chose it because it seemed the most similar to Truth Scale.

Right off the bat the people were interesting and interested. Christian and Calvin were two developers from a new startup in the healthcare space. Christian had some ideas about an improved voting platform and he was also working on saving people money to textbooks at . Denise was a concerned citizen with a background in political science and ninja Prezi skills. Shahrzad has worked in several areas in Dallas government and was technically minded. Michael was very involved in the local politics and gave us great insights.

It was great to have concerned people close to the issues to work with. I’ve been to Startup Weekend where you create and try and implement a business in a weekend. I’ve been to Dallas Give Camp where you have a prepared idea to implement. From a developer standpoint I was more satisfied. Startup Weekend was hard because you are both working on the idea and implementing. The implemented items seemed to be from simple ideas while you don’t have time to tackle the more complex issues. This event was satisfied more my problem solving mindset and I do no coding. Christian and Calvin did an excellent job of adapting the Reddit source code to our needs. I brainstormed and worked on logos and sample content. I think it was ambitions to try and research and implement a solution in 10 hours. a small business idea might be possible but civic issues are often complex and have many people working on them already. It’s important to do research and to think deeply on these issues.

I suggest that going forward they have two events. One would be a thinkathon (solvathon? delvathon)? where all sorts of people get together to research and propose solutions to our civic issues. A second event a month later could be a hackathon where  developers and designers implement any technical solutions. I would enjoy doing both.

Here is the logo I pulled together in about 10 minutes:



We ended up implementing a Reddit style website to increase awareness of the city’s budget and planning process and allow people to provide feedback. We call it CitySpeaks and posted our updates on the challenge post for the event. Today the Dallas City Hall website has a lot of things going on. The budget proposals are deep inside several online PDFs. It’s nice that they are available and searchable but there is no way to discuss or link to a specific item. The idea was to surface these better so that interested citizens could share them in their social media and have a central place to discuss them.

Another feature would be to allow voting on issues. We took this a step further proposing that we give people the ability to verify their address so we could tally votes by the district they are in. This would help our representatives get consolidated feedback from their exact constituents. It would also allow the citizens the detect when their representative is not carrying out the will of the people.

Here is the Prezi we made for the judges:

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