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What you missed at #RiseConf14

We gathered civic hackers from across the East Coast to talk shop. Here's a snapshot of the conversation.

Late last week,’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:

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


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