National Day of Civic Hacking enlists community help to meet local challenges

communities / Article

Knight Foundation is a lead sponsor of the National Day of Civic Hacking, which seeks to enlist people around the world to improve their communities and the governments that serve them. Below, organizers Neisan Massarrat of The Khadem Foundation and Nick Skytland of SecondMuse write about the event, which is scheduled for May 31-June 1, 2014. Photo credit: Flickr user Girl Ray.

What comes to mind when you think about civic hacking? Many people associate “hacking” with people stealing personal information, breaking into websites or revealing government secrets.  We think of the term in a much more positive context; a civic hacker is someone who uses a minimum of resources and a maximum of brainpower and ingenuity to build, repair or enhance something in their community. The civic hackers who participate in the National Day of Civic Hacking are technologists, civil servants, designers, entrepreneurs, engineers – anybody – who is willing to collaborate with others as they address challenges relevant to our neighborhoods, our cities, our states and our country. 

Last year, a National Day of Civic Hacking organizer named Charlie shared this powerful story with us about how he explains what a civic hacker does and the challenge of helping others see that civic hacking is a powerful thing:

“It was my father that helped with this problem. He is 92, active and a veteran of WWII. He pointed out that he first heard the term ‘hacker’ during the early days of WWII in the South Pacific. … When fighter planes would return from action they would be shot up and in many cases crashed on landing because their pilots were injured. Each night huge teams of mechanics would converge upon the wrecked planes and ‘hack’ at them, removing the good parts from several and building a new plane overnight from all the salvaged pieces. He told me they were referred to as the ‘hacker details.’ That was because they had to use metal ‘hacksaws’ as they cut away the damaged panels of the planes. At 92 he seems to think that is the original root of the term because he said it was very commonly used during the war 60 years ago.”

Although there are many noted origins of the term “hacking,” the memory of Charlie’s father is a vivid illustration of the importance of this work. Today we celebrate civic hacking in the most positive context as a powerful way of reimaging complex problems and inventing new approaches. The National Day of Civic Hacking is a call to action for leaders in cities everywhere to unleash their can-do spirit by collaboratively harnessing publicly released data and code to create innovative solutions for problems that affect residents everywhere.

The second annual National Day of Civic Hacking will take place May 31-June 1 in cities around the world. With 94 events in 76 cities already registered, this year’s event is on track to be our largest mass collaboration ever. Four examples of what you can expect from the event include:

·      In Arlington, Va., the National Science Foundation is offering a series of challenges related to its research objectives and hosting an event at its headquarters.

·      In Harpswell, Maine, local organizers will open a new Citizen Science-focused Makerspace in partnership with the Harpswell Coastal Academy. Activities will be oriented towards Grassroots Mapping of Invasive Aquatic Species threatening the local ecosystem.

·      In Philadelphia, local organizers will host a Random Hacks of Kindness Hackathon at Excite Center located at Drexel University.

·      In Virginia Beach, Va., Code for Hampton Roads is organizing a hackathon focused on the White House Climate Data Initiative.  They will use geographic information systems to examine coastal flooding.

A coalition of leading organizations, companies and government agencies have banded together to lead this effort with the goal of promoting transparency, participation and collaboration among governments, startups and residents. These partners will support the National Day of Civic Hacking by hosting activities around the world that invite anyone to become part of the civic hacker community – whether you’re a newbie or an expert – and by connecting people in person or online during the weekend celebration. 

So please save the date – May 31-June 1, 2014 – and join us in a city near you.

Sign up for our newsletter

Submit your email. Receive updates and the @knightfdn newsletter.

Subscription Options

Insights from the Knight News Challenge: Applying design thinking

technology / Article