Late last week, Technical.ly’s Rise conference welcomed civic hackers (more on that word choice in a bit) from across the East Coast to share their insights on how to incubate and scale socially conscious, civically engaged tech communities.
It was a lively gathering of civil servants, technologists and creative professionals looking for new ways to lift up where they live.
Prevailing themes included the importance of bringing policy expertise to the table in civic hacking conversations, the freedom to tolerate risk and failure in civic tech ventures (piloted both in and out of government) and the ability of public-private partnerships to leverage the best from both sectors.
Social media stayed active throughout. Here’s what the conversation surrounding the event looked like:
— Jessica Santana (@JessWorldwide) October 23, 2014
Rise opened with our own Christopher Wink interviewing Forbes Editor Randall Lane, who reflected on the Forbes Under 30 Summit and shared his thoughts on how cities should treat college grads and entrepreneurs.
— Adam Schmidt (@DrinkerInChief) October 24, 2014
— Megan Threats (@trillscott) October 23, 2014
— Archna Sahay (@ArchnaSahay) October 23, 2014
— RU FutuRe ScholaRs (@FutureScholars) October 23, 2014
Deborah Diamond of Campus Philly, John Grady of PIDC, Tucker Reed of Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, Mayor Alex Torpey of South Orange, N.J., and Bret Perkins of Comcast articulated what makes a good, modern public-private partnership. Here are a few themes from the conversation:
- In a good public-private partnership, both sides are able to recognize what they need from each other.
- A good partnership can’t be all things to all people, so set expectations accordingly when dealing with different interest groups.
- The PIDC is more interested in drawing private capital to entrepreneurs than ever before.
“Cities are factories for innovation and growth.” – Bret Perkins #riseconf14
— Citizens Campaign (@CitizenCampaign) October 23, 2014
— Jess Solomazing (@jesssolomon) October 23, 2014
Thursday afternoon, the group broke up into Civic Innovation Classes, discussing how to start, connect and accelerate civic innovation communities, while also thinking about the future of technology communities.
Simon Hauger of The Workshop School talked about how he built out an after-school program as his minimum viable product, and used its success to fundraise and launch an alternative senior year program, which led to a high school.
Chief Data Officer Tim Wisniewski said the imperative of the open data movement is now to make it more widely indispensable so that work cannot be undone in the future. He noted hiring more folks on his data team who are working on front end tools, not just .csv downloads.
Bevan Weissman of New American Public Art said he’s new to this kind of civic engagement so his group is still building good habits. The arts, like Culture Tap, help create shared experiences.
— Faye Anderson (@andersonatlarge) October 23, 2014
.”Go out and try and do good.” -Simon Haugher – Workshop School #riseconf14
— Danielle Cohn (@daniellecohn) October 23, 2014
— Alisha Green (@alisha_writes) October 24, 2014
Friday began with a panel on how to make government more transparent, scalably.
- Matt Bailey of Code for DC said we should use the term “civic hacker” not “civic technologist,” because a hacker has the expertise necessary for innovative solutions.
- Mark Headd explained to us that open government is bigger than open data, because it means transparency around how decisions get made and how money is spent.
- Story Bellows of Philadelphia’s Office of New Urban Mechanics argued that pilots launched within government should tolerate risk and have the freedom to fail.
- Alisha Green of the Sunlight Foundation shared best practices for implementing an open data policy.
- Robyn Caplan of GovLab out of NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering explored how we facilitate feedback between government, civic innovators and citizens, using the Open Data 500 as an example.
- Michael Lawrence Evans of the Boston New Urban Mechanics explained how City Hall To Go increases access to government and shared creative place-making projects like Stairs of Fabulousness.
— LEADERSHIP Phila (@LeadershipPhila) October 24, 2014
— Scott Pinkelman (@scottpinkelman) October 24, 2014
— Archna Sahay (@ArchnaSahay) October 24, 2014
— NYU Polytechnic (@nyupoly) October 24, 2014
Our next panel discussed the latest in social entrepreneurship, or: how to build a business community that cares.
- Jon Gosier of Third Cohort said that scale-able may not be the goal for civic mindedness. Instead, sustainability should be the goal, he said.
- When asked what is essential to incubate a startup community, Chris Heivly of the North Carolina-based Startup Factory said, “Beer.”
- Lily Liu of Public Stuff said millennials prioritize mission over profit in the job search, and she said social consciousness is a business advantage.
- Zoe Selzer McKinley of Philadelphia University said we should create businesses that solve social problems.
- Rodney Foxworth of #SocEnt Breakfast said the key to selling civic tech to municipalities is to pitch them on savings. He pointed to social impact bonds as a way to quantify social impact.
“Profit is a good thing and you should be motivated by it, but you need to have some thought about impact as well” – Zoe Selzer #riseconf14
— Story Bellows (@storybellows) October 24, 2014
— DonnaFrisbyGreenwood (@DAFrizzG) October 24, 2014
“You have to figure out how to convene without the control. We have agenda-less meetings. It’s all about environment” #riseconf14
— Julia (@Meowy_Wowy) October 24, 2014
Then a panel took the stage to discuss how to engage diverse communities.
- The Red Hook Digital Stewards shared how they partner with local businesses and organizations to bring wifi to their neighborhood.
- Michelle Lee of Textizen said to consider the culture of the customer when doing outreach.
- Rich Sedmak of Startup Corps said he has the kids in his program work on service businesses as a way of discovering ancillary problems to solve.
- Youngjin Yoo of Urban Apps and Maps warned not to build your product before thinking about the audience.
— Corinne (@corinnepw) October 24, 2014
What a great reminder that we should never send any child to a program we would not pay for our own children to attend. #riseconf14
— Phila History Truck (@HistoryTruck) October 24, 2014
— Red Hook WiFi (@RedHookWiFi) October 24, 2014
— AdaptNY (@AdaptNY) October 24, 2014
To close Rise, we heard about creative projects in the civic tech space.
— NYU Polytechnic (@nyupoly) October 24, 2014
— Cat (@cfarm) October 24, 2014
— Michael Tedeschi (@mike_tedeschi) October 24, 2014
But we didn’t leave Rise without a preview of what to expect on a skyscraper at Philly Tech Week 2015 from Frank Lee. “I want my next game idea to inspire women to get interested in technology,” he said.