7 Code for Philly 'DemHack' apps that could inspire civic engagement - Technical.ly Philly

Civic

Mar. 30, 2015 11:24 am

7 Code for Philly ‘DemHack’ apps that could inspire civic engagement

Civic-minded hackers and others swarmed the city's Innovation Lab over the weekend to develop open-source civic engagement apps.

Chief Data Officer Tim Wisniewski and his team present their app to the panel.

(Photo by Tony Abraham)

Hackathon Rule #1: You don’t need to be a coder to help develop powerful tools, especially if those tools encourage civic engagement.

Community organizers, democracy enthusiasts, data zealots, technologists and civic-minded Philadelphians alike assumed control of the city’s Innovation Lab this past weekend for Code for Philly’s Apps for Philly Democracy Hackathon.

In standard hackathon fashion, hackers had from Friday to Sunday to turn their great ideas into products. EveryBlock’s API and new city datasets were the only resources provided.

Teams presented their prototypes to a panel of judges, comprised of Chief Integrity Officer Hope Caldwell, Azavea project manager Sarah Cordivano, Philly Mag’s Holly Otterbein, Unlock Philly founder James Tyack and Commissioner Al Schmidt.

Here’s what each team presented:

Team 1

According to this group, voter registration and unknown polling locations are two of the most prevalent barriers that dissuade eligible voters from voting. Their app, Philly Vote Check, aims to change that.

The iOS version of Philly Vote Check allows users to check to see if they’re registered. If they are, they can view all of their voting records. Don’t know your polling location? Type in your district and ward and the app will tell you where you need to go to do your civic duty (the web app gives you directions to the polling location).

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In the future, this team would like to register users in order to distribute newsletters and sample ballots.

Team 2

A one-man team with an app called The World Social Reserve System. He said that while everyone has been begging for government transparency, he’s been working on developing an app that would bring about a transparent economy.

Businesses and charities pay a service fee on net sales revenue to publicize how they spend their money. Income generated by the app would be used by civilians, who vote on where the money should be spent — campaigns, initiatives, etc.

The app could also apply to city government. Users would have the ability to view profiles of politicians and city officials that reveal where their personal and allotted finances are being distributed.

Team 3

Chief Data Officer Tim Wisniewski’s team. Their app, Ward Leader Baseball Cards, creates baseball card-esque profiles for city ward leaders. Why?

“How many people know who their ward leaders are?” Wisniewski asked. Otterbein was the only one to raise a hand.

Considering how much impact ward leaders have, both in communities and across the city, this app would make it much easier to stay informed about ward leaders and their track records — and make them much more accessible.

Each ward leader profile unveils birth dates, addresses (some ward leaders don’t live in the wards they represent), the last time they voted, occupation, Facebook and Twitter accounts and photos. Information is aggregated from OpenDataPhilly, but the data has been logged in a Google Spreadsheet where users can go in and make suggested edits and additions.

Team 4

This team, consisting of two Azavea employees, created an app called Social Vote — a “platform to explore voter participation.” The team suggests increasing voter participation and engagement through city data and social pressure.

The app pulls voter files from state records, which includes all registered voters, their party affiliation and history of participation. When it’s time to vote, the app reveals which of your neighbors came out to your polling location to perform their civic duty — and, more importantly, which of your neighbors haven’t turned out yet.

In the future, the team would like to incorporate participation at census block and ward levels.

Team 5

This app combines census data by ward and voter data to geo-locate voter turnout by block group. The app shows demographics in each block to better understand how to engage eligible voters who haven’t taken a trip to the polls in a while.

The team said the app can be used as a research tool to identify low-turnout areas by neighborhood, in turn targeting places where voter engagement efforts need to be focused.

Team 6

This app, called One Stop Transparency Shop, pulls city contract data, campaign finance reports from the Records Department and lobbying reports from the Ethics Board, combining all that information in an attempt to find a link between contracts and donations.

The goal is to search a vendor’s name to see all contracts they’ve been awarded and how much money they’ve donated to campaign and lobbying. The results would give users an idea of how those awarded contracts might be related to campaign donations.

A great idea. The problem? Campaign data is an absolute mess, making the app’s findings unreliable. The first step in making this a functioning, useable tool would be to clean up campaign finance data.

Team 7

This team’s app is called Camparison (not a spelling error). Camparison is a hub for any and all information you need about the mayoral candidates in order to make a better-informed decision.

The creators said the app is one unified and accessible source for easy candidate comparisons. Similar to Ward Leader Baseball Cards, their app gives each candidate a profile that shows their stances on various issues. Perhaps more importantly, it’s capable of creating side-by-side candidate comparisons per issue.

The information for this app was all gathered manually from various publications across the city.

In the future, this team would like to provide a candidate questionnaire that links users up with the contender whose stances most mirror theirs.

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Tony Abraham

Tony Abraham covers Philly's social impact space as lead reporter for Generocity. A former Technical.ly reporter in Delaware and Philly, Tony also occasionally writes for Red Bull Amaphiko and WHYY Newsworks. Though he lives on his Twitter timeline, the Temple University alumnus calls Fishtown home.

  • Chris Alfano

    “EveryBlock’s API and new city datasets were the only resources provided” is a bit misleading. Those are the only data resources represented by presenters at our Friday night opening event, but participants were free to use any data they could get their hands on including the vast array of older releases cataloged at http://opendataphilly.org/ and http://www.azavea.com/a/hacks-for-democracy#resources

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