A group of civic hackers, technologists, public servants, and community leaders for the Twin Cities (Minneapolis, St. Paul, and metro area) focused on improving the technology of our cities. We are a Code for America Brigade partnered with E-Democracy.org.
See our Mission Statement and Goals for more information.
You don’t have to be a developer to be part of a hackathon. In fact, good hackathons include a wide variety of skills beyond software development and UI design. Climate Crowd is a prime example of this. Aiming to help consumers make environmentally sustainable purchases, the Climate Crowd team took the time to seriously understand the market failures that exist today regarding environmental sustainability. This understanding informed a business analysis that lead to designs and a project proposal for a crowdsourced website that will directly address one glaring market failure: a significant lack of information regarding the environmental impact of products in services. Described as a Yelp for the environment, Climate Crowd came out of the weekend with a solid plan to create a marketplace based on environmental sustainability.
Modern IT has made it much easier to communicate with people all over the world. Yet, IT hasn’t had quite the same impact on communications with people a block or two away. Code for Neighborhoods addressed on this paradox by creating a prototype for a proximity based messaging system - a system that allows a user to send messages to folks within a quarter mile instead of the whole world. Built on Rails, Code for Neighborhoods lays the foundation for a communications platform that will make it easy to find out who on your block you can borrow a ladder from and alert your neighbors when you see a breakin happening. Most importantly, Code for Neighborhoods will make it easier to get to know the people who live in your immediate community.
Connect Me Minneapolis, a project that will provide information on where to find publicly accessible Internet connected computers, is another example of how a great hackathon project can focus on research and planning instead of coding. Foregoing programming, this team spent the weekend following a service design approach that emphasizes research in order to understand the true needs of the project’s intended users. Venturing out to the local library, this team gained a deep understanding of what a wide variety of users would demand of this project. With this deep understanding, Connect Me Minneapolis put together a plan and presented a project that, in the words of one of the judges, is “prime for grant money”.
If you live in a city, you’re probably familiar with the pain of having to park. Parking issues are notoriously difficult to anticipate and address when organizations and communities are evaluating new business and residential developments or planning events. Yet poor parking availability can kill businesses and degrade quality of life for residents. DataPark tackled this parking problem by spending the weekend developing a web app that models parking supply and demand based on existing and future real estate developments, all in the hope of bringing harmony to communities by providing their planning committees with a powerful evaluation tool.
Bus projects are popular at civic hackathons, and Hack for MN was no exception. The mspbus.org team launched a real-time bus tracking site within 6 hours of meeting for the first time at Hack for MN. They utilize MetroTransit’s Nextrip API for the real-time bus location data, and display it in an easy to use web interface, which looks just as good on your smartphone as it does on your desktop. When you load the site, it will ask for your location and then display real-time arrival times for the bus stops closest to you. They built the site for frequent bus-riders who already know which routes they're looking for, and just want to know when the bus is actually coming. Put another way, do you have 5 minutes to enjoy your coffee, or do you need to dash out the door right now?
Did I mention that bus apps are popular? Another team worked on real time displays of bus information, with a focus on placing physical displays in bus stops so people waiting at or passing by stops can know how far away the bus is without a smartphone. Materials weren’t available to actually make physical prototypes, so this team focused on creating digital prototypes for several styles of information display. Made up of one of Open Twin Cities’ organizers and the lead organizer of Visualizing Neighborhoods, this team insisted that we not award them anything. So they went home with an award for humbleness.
Open Data doesn’t just apply to governments. Innovation can occur based on opening up data that is only available to private companies as well. This is the philosophy that drove the Open Wi-Fi/GPS Directory project to work on the idea of publicly accessible directories of geolocated wifi signals. Google and Apple currently maintain private versions of these directories, allowing them to improve the accuracy of their location services, especially inside. This same data, once made public, can become the basis for technologies and businesses that help people find publicly accessible Wi-Fi or offer location based services in the downtowns of Minneapolis and St. Paul.
Participation in elections is a core component of citizenship and community engagement. Unfortunately, many new members to a community do not vote because they do not know where to go on Election Day. The Secretary of State of Minnesota runs a Polling Place Finder website that aims to address this problem, and the Polling Place Finder team was on a mission to improve this site’s service by 1.) making it easier to use, and 2.) making it more accessible across the digital divide. The Polling Place Finder team achieved both of these goals with a working prototype service based entirely on text messaging. Using this service, anybody with a phone capable of text messaging can simply text an address to the Polling Place Finder phone number and quickly receive the address of their polling place.
Civic hacking doesn’t have to focus on just the tech. Solvabl hammered out a plan for a site and organization to execute major social change by addressing the achievement gap and technology-skilled labor shortage in Minnesota. Solvabl’s plans include a sophisticated website that matches youth with mentors and internships. But the real power of Solvabl’s plan is in the proposed organization that will build and manage the network needed to matchmake and educate companies on how to coach a diverse group of teens as they learn technology development skills.