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Code for Philly / Hackathons

Code for Philly is reinventing the hackathon model

Meet the Civic Engagement Launchpad.

At Code for Philly's City as a Service Hackathon. (Photo by Chris Kendig)

Rushing through buggy demos in pizza-fueled crazes was not cutting it for Code for Philly.

So when time rolled around for the City as a Service Hackathon (or CaasH, as it was known on social media), the event’s model shifted from a 48-hour push to commit to a monthlong, more-thought-out process with participation from the City of Philadelphia.

Now, in keeping with the new “more time, better outcome” policy, the annual DemHack event, which has brought civic hackers and local pols together since 2015 has been resized and renamed.

The Community Engagement Launchpad is, as comms lead Pat Woods describes it, a “mont-long, project-launching sprint focused on improving democratic systems and creating tools for greater civic engagement,” and it kicks off March 24 with a brainstorming session at City Hall.


Ahead of that first IRL session, Code for Philly wants citizens to submit their ideas for projects here.

Here are couple of reasons for the update, per Woods:

  • “Hackathon doesn’t really reflect the intention of the event: we don’t want projects to live and die in that weekend with a ‘hacked together’ prototype,” said the rep. “We found that teams often left the project after that and didn’t have much to show for their time investment.” (We’ve covered this phenomenon before.)
  • “The focus on democracy resulted in projects mostly solving issues with elections and voting. Naturally voting and elections are critical to democracy, but for this event we wanted to expand the goal to encompass more of the civic engagement aspect that happens way more than every couple years.”

The shift also allows for a broader callout for non-technologists to join the effort. Researchers, designers and content experts (along with their organizations) are more than welcome to join the effort, Woods said.

It’s of note that the first session will happen at City Hall’s Caucus Room. City government has a history in joining Code for Philly projects and, in this particular one, Eliza Pollack from the Office of Innovation and Technology has been directly assisting with the programming. Read her impassioned bid for young people to join public service here.

More than likely, we’ll also spot data chief Tim Wisniewski aka the hacker in black in attendance.


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