Civic Hackathon Looks for Innovative Ways to Fix Local Government / by Justin Bibb

By: Justin Bibb and Nicole Thomas

When you think of innovation, rarely does the term "municipal government" come to mind. But if the United States hopes to maintain its standing as a global economic power, our focus should shift to local decision-makers. Nowhere is this more true than here in Cleveland, where major demographic changes, falling revenues, and rising citizen concerns have placed an unprecedented amount of pressure on city leaders.

From stagnant population growth to persistent poverty, Clevelanders are equally concerned with both the challenges before them and with the pace of meaningful reform. And while there are symbols of a renaissance before us, including stronger schools and investment in economic development, much work remains to ensure true social and economic change.

Hack Cleveland is a group of community members who want to make Cleveland a national model of urban transformation. For those who think hacking is an avenue only for the most technologically advanced among us, please read on. HackCLE was born in response to the death of Tamir Rice when a group of community leaders in business, technology, community development, and education recognized that Cleveland's future depends on adopting a new playbook for change.

Our goal is to use the power of technology to magnify and implement the work of local activists and social justice advocates. A critical component of this work is to involve every community that has a solid set of skills to offer. These skills vary widely -- an understanding of the way your neighborhood works is just as valuable as knowledge of computer programming.

To that end, we are hosting Fix 216, a civic hackathon. Simply put, civic hacking means using technology to create community-centered solutions and improve the efficiency of government processes. Fix 216, to be held Friday, May 29, and Saturday, May 30, will bring together citizens, activists, community leaders, writers, artists and programmers to tackle the systemic problems facing our city, including a skilled workforce, livable neighborhoods, and perhaps most notably, concerns about police violence.  

At Fix 216, participants will debrief the tumultuous last six months in Cleveland regarding policing practices and the city's consent decree negotiations with the U.S. Department of Justice. During the Friday convening, participants will discuss the specific challenges they would like to address, and on Saturday, teams will use public data to create solutions. They will also learn about cutting-edge data and tech tools that have been valuable in navigating consent decrees in other cities, such as Camden, New Jersey. These tools are real options for Cleveland that will help restore trust and accountability in community policing.

We have chosen this approach to problem-solving to move beyond the initial steps of community forums and step outside of the tech bubble. Increasingly, American cities, including Cincinnati, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C., are developing pragmatic solutions and restoring the social contract between city leaders and the citizens they serve by tapping open data. Open data, accessed through civic hacking, will allow Clevelanders to feel more connected to community decision-making processes by using publicly held, trusted, and easily accessible data to create solutions in their own communities.

HackCLE recognizes our role as a convener, and emphasizes that power and progress be driven by the community as a whole. We acknowledge that our intentions for Fix 216 may expose realities about our community that may be difficult to accept. HackCLE intends to create an atmosphere of trust and honesty during Fix 216, with the expectation that all participants be respectful of the thoughts and opinions shared during the event. We are prepared for meaningful discussion, as we make the case for access and transparency in government, explore ways activists and technologists can work together for intersectional change, and identify opportunities to advocate for reform. HackCLE hopes you will consider exploring what the power of open data in Cleveland could look like at our civic hackathon, Fix 216.

Source: http://www.cleveland.com/opinion/index.ssf...