I recently participated in the Boston meet up for the National Day of Civic Hacking on Saturday, June 1st. The National Day of Civic Hacking is inspired in part by President Obama’s Executive Order issued in May to establish an Open Data Policy and brought together citizens, software developers and entrepreneurs from all over the nation to collaboratively create, build and invent new solutions using publicly-released data, code and technology to solve the challenges relevant to every neighborhood, city, town and state.
The room was filled with about 40 coders and software developers ready to work together to design computer applications and programs to allow people to access technology in ways to help others. According to the National Day of Civic Hacking website, one team in Washington, D.C. worked with the U.S. Department of Labor to design a system that connects women veterans with important available resources, such as childcare, transportation and support for PTSD. Another DC-based team worked with a representative from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to use a massive open CFPB dataset to create meaningful visualizations that help shed light on the scope of consumer complaints filed with the agency.
A friend of mine who writes code had told me about the big weekend event over a month ago, and it piqued my interest given my work in making the state budget more transparent through Open Checkbook and making corporate tax breaks more transparent. I submitted the Help4OK project (#Help4OK hashtag on Twitter) to build on local efforts for crisis management response following the Boston Marathon bombings and disasters like Irene and Sandy. The project is based on a website for Oklahoma tornado victims to connect people who need help with people who can give help. The goal of the Help4OK challenge is to design a website that is 100% mobile friendly and hosted publicly on drupal.org. Check out the Help4OK challenge at http://hackforchange.org/challenge/help4ok-0.
The report I received from project leader Jamie Meredith was encouraging and inspiring. 7 participants from the original group logged in 14 hours working on the Help4OK challenge, hashing out concepts and coding to carry out the goals of the Help4OK challenge. Over two days, team members made great strides to streamline the Help4OK website and simplify crisis response to future disasters.
That Saturday, the group focused on discussion about the logistics and realities of response to a disaster and how that would intersect with a disaster response application. Specifically, they looked at scenarios where government organizations pre-prepare for events by having information ready to feed into a disaster response application. The following day, the shift was made to look specifically at what scenarios would be the most common in a disaster situation and what information would need to be gathered and shared. Additionally, the user scenarios were outlined for interaction with the distribution and discussed the challenges of establishing a distribution that is easy for a non-technical person to setup and operate. The weekend ended with a 10 minute presentation given by all the participants in the group with a great amount more work to do to perfect the app.
Selected projects from the National Day of Hacking will be featured at an event sponsored by the White House at the end of July in tandem with President Obama’s focus on STEM education. For more information on the projects that were launched across the country on the National Day of Civic Hacking, check out http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2013/06/07/thousands-americans-innovate-good-national-day-civic-hacking.
In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings and Hurricane Sandy, I am eager to see the outcome of the project and how it can be utilized to help victims during future disasters. This event is a great example of how state government can better take advantage of technology and the wealth of hi-tech talent we have in Massachusetts to improve the delivery of services of government to residents. My experience two Saturdays ago was an exciting introduction to how this could be done.