Think Government is Broken? Then Hack your City!

The current climate in our city’s political landscape is filled with us vs. them, “lines in the sand”, and grand ultimatums. We’ve seen our communities divided on issues like affordable housing, police accountability, environmental sustainability, density, growth, traffic, short-term rentals, pedestrian and cyclist safety. And of course, most notably… “ride-sharing.”

If you’ve chosen a side on one of these issues, thank you! Thank you for caring about your community, and for listening to the radio, or reading the local paper, or having a discussion on Facebook or talking about it with your friends and neighbors!

Austin is special because of weirdos like you that give a damn.

But, if you really care about an issue, what comes next after becoming informed? How can you level up your civic skills? And no, I’m not going to tell you just to vote. Democracy is a contact sport. It requires participation, hard work, and voting is just scratching the surface.

My message is that if you want to get to work on solving the big problems in our community, don’t just pick a side, don’t just engage in an embattled 140 character tweet storm. Don’t stop there. Get out into your community, and build something. Write something, design something, program something, improve something, investigate something. Hack something!

My goal is to make you a hacker. A “civic hacker.” Hack your city for the public good. Be the change you want to see in the world.

ATX Hack for Change

On June 3–5, for the fourth consecutive year, our community will converge on the ATX Hack for Change, one of the largest civic and social good hackathons in the country. Participants will immerse themselves in the hard problems that the private sector might not be incentivized to solve. Makeshift, collaborative teams will prototype clever and outlandish solutions, or hacks. You are invited! No prior skills or experience required.

Starting with the first ATX Hack for Change in 2013, civic hackers have demonstrated to our City leaders the types of collaborative problem solving that is taken for granted in tech companies, but are sometimes lacking inside government.

We are seeing the fruits of our efforts when a city bureaucrat sits side-by-side with a designer to create a shareable curriculum for youth summer camps activities. Or when a city GIS specialist helps coders access an undocumented API endpoint to liberate more city data. Most recently, the City has created a program designed to recruit civic hackers to work on these hard problems as a full time job through the City of Austin’s Design, Technology, and Innovation Fellows program.

Even though they would never say it publicly, many city employees would tell you about the array of systems and processes that need to be disrupted and replaced so they can do a better job of serving the citizens.

But they aren’t just walking away from the problem. They are asking for your help to fix it and hack it forward.

If you want to make government work in the 21st century, join us and Hack For Change!

The organization I help lead, Open Austin, was founded in 2009 as a grassroots collective with deep skepticism about how the City was doing things in regards to accessible digital services and open data. We have and will continue to call out City leaders when their actions and policies work against making government transparent and open to everybody in the 21st century. We’ve seen great progress in the past 7 years, but there’s more work to be done. We meet several times a month to work on civic tech projects and to advocate for open government.

© Mateo Salinas Clarke.RSS