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What we learned about civic hacking at this month’s Delaware Tech Meetup

The 45 people in attendance had the opportunity to be a part of a new civic undertaking in Delaware.

Dawn McDougall speaks with state employee Dana Garber about open data at 1313 Innovation. (Photo by Tony Abraham)

This month’s Delaware Tech Meetup had a specific objective in mind: engage the community in a dialogue surrounding civic hacking and open data.
Roughly 45 local technologists, entrepreneurs, innovators and community leaders gathered at 1313 Innovation, which hosted this Meetup in collaboration with Start It Up Delaware. As if that weren’t enough, a handful of representatives from Delaware state government made an appearance to get a gauge on the community’s needs.
“There’s a huge interest at the state to be able to do more with open data,” said Dana Garber of the Delaware Secretary of State’s office. “We want to know from you guys what kind of datasets you’d be looking for and what problems you’d want to be working on.”
After an adequate amount of beers and pizza pies were tossed back, Code for Philly co-organizer Dawn McDougall supplied the community with a thorough introduction to civic hacking in her keynote.
First, getting everyone over the notion that they need to be programming and design-fluent to hack. “I’m not a technologist — I’m tech adjacent,” McDougall said. “I want you as a technologist telling me what I can be working on — give me data, give me problems.
“Think about this idea of operating in a civic space and what that means,” she continued. “It’s about creating an atmosphere of civic engagement — that we’re all in this together, that we have a shared collective will towards making the wold a better place. That starts with our cities and urban government.”
Next, the size of the community. Philadelphia’s got a healthy civic hacking scene, but Philadelphia is also a major national city with a robust tech community. Delaware’s communities are spread out — Wilmington, Newark and even more so in municipalities in Sussex County. But these communities are also much smaller compared to those in Philadelphia and Chicago.
“Each city faces a different challenge,” McDougall said, referencing Code for Princeton, a small, emerging brigade that’s looking to Code for Philly for brotherly guidance.
While it might take some time for Delaware to build a community of people who are passionate about civic engagement and technology, the state also needs to diversify the kinds of datasets published on its portal.
“Government and cities collect so much information, they don’t know where to start half the time,” said McDougall. “You’re government is chomping at the bit to hear what you have to say and values what you think. Take advantage of possibly a very unique time in life.”
The state and its municipalities can get a head start on by doing exactly what Garber, the Secretary of State staffer, did last week — she came out to a tech event and engaged the local community navigating their interests and even promoting state interest in supporting economic development projects.
According to Twitter, it would appear the topic resonated with attendees, some of whom are currently organizing a meeting on June 4 to talk about state datasets.

Now, we just need a hackathon.

Companies: 1313 Innovation / Start It Up Delaware

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