When someone asks you “What does fall mean to you?” people will talk about fall foliage, football or kids going back to school. However to a group of citizens here in the triangle, it is civic tech season. In the fall the civic tech movement holds most of its events.
This past Saturday the season was kicked off with Civic Spark day held in Durham. Civic Spark day is part of NC OpenPass, which is the collective name of the events focusing on civic tech. But more about that later.
Civic Spark Day was billed as a time for public innovation using open data. And it delivered. Several people got up and spoke about existing projects from better ways to share school information, restaurant inspections to “adopting” storm drains. Each of the projects demonstrated the principals of civic tech involving improvement of services, innovation and participation very well. They also demonstrated another vital principal – partnerships.
Partnerships are vital in the civic tech and one that is required as the movement matures. When civic tech began apps were built without much reflection on whether the problem being addressed had a wide audience. Apps were often built with friends or personal networks in mind but not much more. These days we recognize that civic tech efforts need to reach a wider audience and solve challenges faced by government. The projects at Civic Spark Day demonstrated partnerships well.
Next on the schedule was a panel discussion with participants from Asheville, Durham and the NGO organization, the Sunlight Foundation. Topic of the panel was sustainability in the Civic Tech. Again the word we keep coming back to was “partnerships”. When government and citizens work together wonderful things can happen. Eric Jackson, digital services architect for the City of Asheville, says it best. “Government works best when it works with the people, not just for the people.”
The day finished with ideation around new ideas like multi-modal transportation and better engaging volunteerism.
The idea that I was most happy to see discussed was a multi jurisdictional park and open space app. Emerson Barker from Wake County Parks, Rec and Open Space pitched the idea and it was very well received. PROS and the Innovation team had discussed the pitch and developed a backlog of features to jump start the discussion but the collaboration at the event went well beyond that. Close to a dozen people gathered to discuss the ideas. Developers looked at open source code bases that could be used to start the development of the app, designers began doing screen mock ups, back end data people were examining different data sets, project mangers were scoping out the efforts, people were talking about how to market it alongside representatives from the parks department. in short, citizens were directly partnering with government and it was inspiring.
But the inspiration doesn’t have to end here. There are three more events in the coming months that you can participate in – CityCampNC (Sept 28-30), All Things Open (Oct 23-24)), and NC Datapalooza (Nov 13). Sign up here.