(Photo by Lian Parsons)
Opening night for Code for Philly’s DemHack hackathon was stacked with an interesting mix of city politicos: three Councilmembers — the newly elected Helen Gym and Allan Domb, plus longtime West Philly councilwoman Jannie Blackwell — as well as Mayor Jim Kenney. (It was Kenney’s second hackathon. He spoke at last fall’s Apps for Philly Sustainability.)
Domb spoke about how events like these are important in getting millennials engaged with City Hall, while Kenney talked about the importance of bringing new ideas into government.
“The fact that [DemHack] is in this building, the ancient relic of a beautiful building, infusing new life and new ideas into it, I think that not only is practical, but it’s very symbolic,” Kenney said.
Opening night was held in the City Council Chambers of City Hall with about 70 people in attendance. The politicians there pointed to Code for Philly’s growing relevance within city government — many of its members, like Chief Data Officer Tim Wisniewski and city developer Mjumbe Poe, already work within city government, but now, elected officials are catching on. (We don’t remember Mayor Nutter ever making it out to a hackathon but correct us if we’re wrong.) (Editor’s note: We stand corrected. Here’s Nutter at a Code for America hackathon way back in 2012.)
Code for Philly Projects Lead Ben Novack said DemHack was “a grassroots idea-generation engine” and a way to build the tech community in the city, as well as allow people to form connections.
“It brings together a lot of people who don’t hang together on a regular basis,” he said. “It’s a fantastic opportunity to get citizen engagement with democracy.”
Hackers went on to start projects like a jobs board for elected officials that tells you how hard it is to win and also worked on existing projects like Councilmatic, Poe’s subscription service for legislative updates. One app used the Board of Ethics’ campaign finance data, which the department cleaned up for this hackathon after noticing that very few people used the dataset at last year’s DemHack. One technologist, Pat Woods, who worked on the campaign finance data project blogged about his experience here.
During opening night, Kenney championed hackathons, saying they act as think-tanks for making government better. They also show elected officials that Philadelphians “care about what they do and want the information about what they do in day-to-day business.”
Dawn McDougall, executive director of Code for Philly, said hackathons are a way to “engage the government in a meaningful way.”
“The government is hearing us and seeing us and listening to us,” she said.-30-
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