National Day of Civic Hacking Comes to Chicago

Hackers, unite!

For the first time, civic hackers across the nation will come together to participate in one of the largest collaborative hacking projects, National Day of Civic Hacking.

The initial idea came from the White House’s desire to establish programming that increased government transparency. They reached out to hacking organizations like SecondMuse to help organize hackathon events across the country. These events will use data released by federal agencies to build useful tools that will hopefully address civic issues. Over 20 agencies are participating.

Todd Khozein, a partner at SecondMuse, says their organization, which specializes in collaborative technological projects, was pleased at the idea of doing something as large as National Day of Civic Hacking. Especially when it has the potential to increase overall government engagement.

Chicago alone will host three events—Hack for Change Chicago at 1871, Civic Hack Day: A Youth Focused Chicago Civic Challenge, and Chicago Migrahack.

Organized by Smart Chicago Collaborative’s Christopher Whitaker and featuring a design thinking exercise by Knight Lab's Miranda Mulligan, the Hack for Change Chicago will attract both experienced programmers and curious novices who are a looking to explore how they can utilize public data more effectively.

“It’s taking a civic problem, using the open data that state or government has, and tinkering with the data in a way that makes it easier for the public to learn more or solves the problem,” Whitaker says.

The ultimate goal, according to Whitaker, is to spark public awareness that this kind of thing is going on, to expand it beyond the boundaries of the developers. He emphasizes the importance of bringing in not just the technically-savvy, but also partners who deal with civic problems and information every day. Therefore, it is the collaboration aspect that matters, not necessarily the knowledge of coding languages.

Mulligan agrees, stating that even if you do not know much about programming, seeing how other people solve problems can help you to learn.

“I think that using a programming language is a tool," she says. "I may not know how to use a hammer. I have a general idea because I have seen other people use a hammer. I think being around a construction site, most likely would make me better at working with a hammer. Eventually, I might say, ‘I’ve been watching this long enough that I might want to swing the hammer.’"

Khozein says that the sheer size of such an endeavor is indicative of the government’s increased recognition of civic-minded programming.

“I think it represents an entirely different relationship between the government and the people,” Khozein says, where the government is increasingly turning to civilian creativity and innovation when addressing problems. Instead of being an occasional partnership, it may become the new political standard.

About the author

Hilary Sharp

Undergraduate Fellow

Latest Posts

  • Prototyping Augmented Reality

    Something that really frustrates me is that, while I’m excited about the potential AR has for storytelling, I don’t feel like I have really great AR experiences that I can point people to. We know that AR is great for taking a selfie with a Pikachu and it’s pretty good at measuring spaces (as long as your room is really well lit and your phone is fully charged) but beyond that, we’re really still figuring...

    Continue Reading

  • Capturing the Soundfield: Recording Ambisonics for VR

    When building experiences in virtual reality we’re confronted with the challenge of mimicking how sounds hit us in the real world from all directions. One useful tool for us to attempt this mimicry is called a soundfield microphone. We tested one of these microphones to explore how audio plays into building immersive experiences for virtual reality. Approaching ambisonics with the soundfield microphone has become popular in development for VR particularly for 360 videos. With it,...

    Continue Reading

  • How to translate live-spoken human words into computer “truth”

    Our Knight Lab team spent three months in Winter 2018 exploring how to combine various technologies to capture, interpret, and fact check live broadcasts from television news stations, using Amazon’s Alexa personal assistant device as a low-friction way to initiate the process. The ultimate goal was to build an Alexa skill that could be its own form of live, automated fact-checking: cross-referencing a statement from a politician or otherwise newsworthy figure against previously fact-checked statements......

    Continue Reading

  • Northwestern is hiring a CS + Journalism professor

    Work with us at the intersection of media, technology and design.

    Are you interested in working with journalism and computer science students to build innovative media tools, products and apps? Would you like to teach the next generation of media innovators? Do you have a track record building technologies for journalists, publishers, storytellers or media consumers? Northwestern University is recruiting for an assistant or associate professor for computer science AND journalism, who will share an appointment in the Medill School of Journalism and the McCormick School...

    Continue Reading

  • Introducing StorylineJS

    Today we're excited to release a new tool for storytellers.

    StorylineJS makes it easy to tell the story behind a dataset, without the need for programming or data visualization expertise. Just upload your data to Google Sheets, add two columns, and fill in the story on the rows you want to highlight. Set a few configuration options and you have an annotated chart, ready to embed on your website. (And did we mention, it looks great on phones?) As with all of our tools, simplicity...

    Continue Reading

  • Join us in October: NU hosts the Computation + Journalism 2017 symposium

    An exciting lineup of researchers, technologists and journalists will convene in October for Computation + Journalism Symposium 2017 at Northwestern University. Register now and book your hotel rooms for the event, which will take place on Friday, Oct. 13, and Saturday, Oct. 14 in Evanston, IL. Hotel room blocks near campus are filling up fast! Speakers will include: Ashwin Ram, who heads research and development for Amazon’s Alexa artificial intelligence (AI) agent, which powers the...

    Continue Reading

Storytelling Tools

We build easy-to-use tools that can help you tell better stories.

View More