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Code for Philly / Hackathons / Municipal government / Politics

7 inspiring civic hacking projects from Code for Philly’s #CELaunchpad

Sixty-five civic hackers will spend the next month working on projects around gerrymandering, sample ballots and parking (with advice from lotsa city government folks.)

Teamwork looks like this. (GIF via

The shift to a month-long format gave civic hackers at Code for Philly’s City-as-a-Service hackathon more runway to tackle deeper, broader projects last October.

Over the weekend, the format was again revisited in the nonprofit’s Civic Engagement Launchpad hackathon, which kicked things off by gathering 80 volunteers with a brainstorming session held at City Council’s Caucus Room. Thanks to the extra breathing room, the first 48 hours of hustle are spent giving shape to the idea, not the project itself.

“It’s nice to see teams having the chance to give projects a higher level of thought,” said the nonprofit’s communications lead Pat Woods, himself a team member. “Teams were able to focus on finding the information they needed to take deeper looks at their subjects.”

Here’s a quick recap video courtesy of Azavea:

Here’s the roundup of projects:

  • RCO: A website that helps people learn about Registered Community Organizations and connect them with RCO’s in their neighborhood. Team Lead: Laura Oxenfeld. (Here’s her empassioned call to action prior to the hackathon.)
  • Open Seat Finder (working title): A way for Philadelphia residents to find open seats within their local government and learn about the requirements for running for a position. Team Lead: Jen Dionisio and Engine Room’s Naomi Bush.
  • Anti-Gerrymandering (working title): A platform for exposing the effects of gerrymandering in Pennsylvania with a focus on creating a clear, interactive visualization of the problem and providing both educational and legal resources for those that want to raise awareness and take action against the issue. Team Leads: Anthony Ciacci and Lauren Payne-Riley.
  • Philly Sample Ballots: An addition to Philly Ward Leaders, the project aims to crowdsource capturing the influential hand-outs given to voters as they approach polling places. Team Leads: Tim Wisniewski and Lauren Ancona.
  • Validate Authenticity of Temp Parking Restriction Signs: Tackle counterfeit temp restriction signs by creating a scannable QR barcode allowing residents to validate the sign’s authenticity and details. Team Leads: Lloyd Emelle and Izak Maitin.
  • Leverage (evergreen project): On its third hackathon session, the team will aim to improve this campaign finance information platform. Team Lead: Casey Vaughan.
  • Near Green (evergreen project): Jawn Award winners from the City as a Service Hackathon, the team will aim to add mapping capabilities to this healthy food tracker. Team Lead: Marissa Goldberg. (Read about one of Near Green’s team members, Miriam Peskowitz, and her experience at her first hackathon.)

Of note is the increasing volume of city workers getting involved with the project. Per organizer Dawn McDougall, 31 people working in government attended the sessions, including six executives (like Jane Slusser, Mayor Jim Kenney’s chief of staff, and Chief Administrative Officer Christine Derenick-Lopez,) two directors, five staffers from City Council and three elected officials including Councilwoman Helen Gym and Councilman David Oh.

Another standout was the City’s former civic tech director Aaron Ogle. Absent from Code for Philly activities for some time, Ogle returned to give a workshop on civic hacking to attendees.

“We aren’t working on these problems because they are easy to solve,” said McDougall of the hackathon. “We’re giving our nights and weekends because the work is worth doing. It’s amazing to see that the City is at our door asking us to help better provide for the populations in our city that need it most. The teams at the Civic Engagement Launchpad are stepping up.”

Look out for the hackathon’s project demo night, happening April 25 at WeWork’s 1900 Market location.

Companies: Engine Room

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