I almost didn’t make it. There was nearly a foot of snow on the ground early that Saturday morning this past February, making me question if the 30 minute drive up to the Speak Easy was worth the hassle. All I knew was Indy’s Code for America fellows had chosen to host the city’s first CodeAcross event on one of the worst weather days of the year. “I’m not even sure what will come out of this,” I said to my wife as I was getting dressed. “But I feel like I need to be there.”
Only a handful of dedicated souls ventured out to the Speak Easy that day. I won’t lie. My first thought was, “Why am I not curled up on my couch right now?” But slowly, as I got to know everyone, and we started talking about the need for our tech community to engage local government, it became clear the drive had been well worth it. This was something new – something that could have a profound impact on the city. And if these people showed up on a day like this, you knew they were committed to make it happen. The Open Indy Brigade had been born.
It’s hard to believe that was just ten months ago. From that initial meeting, we’ve grown to over 230 members, established partnerships and sponsorships, facilitated open data events, and begun multiple projects that could change the landscape of civic innovation for years to come. Now, as we begin preparing for a busy new year, it’s a good time for us to celebrate how far Indy’s civic tech community has come and say ‘thank you’ for the hard work that has brought this movement to life. So let’s count it down – Indy’s top 5 civic tech moments of 2015!
#5 – Eleven Fifty hosts 2nd annual Indy Civic Hack Day – June 6th
Bigger crowd. Bigger names. Bigger challenges. That pretty much sums up the successful sequel to the inaugural event in 2014. Now recognized as the must-attend event for Indy’s civic tech community, Indy Civic Hack Day provides three extremely valuable outcomes. First, for elected officials, public sector staff, and other thought leaders throughout the city, Indy Civic Hack is now the event where government can engage and collaborate with Indy’s tech community. Initially tepid to the idea of discussing thorny challenges with a broad audience, state and local government agencies have started to embrace the opportunity of Hack Day to surface new innovation. Second, the invitation by high level officials to solve critical challenges sends a clear message to the technology community that their work is important and that Indy can offer unique opportunities. In a hyper competitive global environment for talent, an event that appeals to a variety of tech skill sets and builds a connection to the city is invaluable. Lastly, Civic Hack Day puts Indy’s best foot forward on a global stage. As part of the National Day of Civic Hacking, Indy Civic Hack is just one of more than 100 events that takes place around the world to encourage civic innovation. But stuffing 250 of Indy’s best and brightest into Eleven Fifty Coding Academy, a place that looks like Bruce Manor, and broadcasting that out to the world puts Indy on the radar in a big way.
#4 – Schevola wins Hack Series Triple Crown – October 27th
One of the many benefits of a vibrant civic tech ecosystem is that it has a way of surfacing latent tech talent. Case in point: John Schevola. Schevola, a telecommunications specialist at AT&T, was in the home stretch of earning his bachelor’s degree from Western Governor’s University (WGU) in February of 2015 when an email popped in his inbox. It was an invitation to participate in the Indiana vs. Texas Hack to be held in just a few days. Schevola scrambled to put together a team. Ultimately, he could find only one partner, his 17-year-old son Isaiah, to join him for his first foray into hacking. Turns out, that was all he needed. Schevola took top honors for his Indiana vs. Texas Hack submission and went on to win a challenge for his submission at Indy Civic Hack Day. For the Corporate Hack in October, Schevola found himself once again in the winner’s circle for his submission to the challenge provided by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, making him the Hack Series’ only 3-time winner. In addition to his prize winnings, Schevola’s breakout performance this year has also earned him a promotion with AT&T and resulted in multiple internship offers for his son. Congratulations John!
#3 – Open Indy Brigade launches Civic UX initiative – November 19th
Since the start of the Open Indy Brigade, dozens of exciting project ideas have been discussed and debated, each with the potential to bring significant positive change to our community. But none of those projects has generated the amount of interest and activity as the Brigade’s recently launched initiative to improve the user experience (UX) of the websites and apps deployed by local government. “As an organization that puts so much emphasis on open data, it may seem a little strange that our first project is all about UX,” said Rachel Mahan, the project lead for Civic UX. “But open data’s full potential can’t be realized unless people are able to interact with public websites and understand what they’re looking at. UX is an important part of this effort.” In November, the Open Indy Brigade officially launched the Civic UX initiative and announced a partnership with the Visual Communication Design program at Herron School of Art and Design.
#2 – Indiana vs Texas Hack winner Reborn Code wins contract – October 9th
Winning a contract with the Indiana Office of Technology may not sound like one of the most exciting moments of 2015, but in the world of civic innovation, believe us – it’s a big deal! The announcement in October that Fishers-based Reborn Code was inking a deal with the IOT as a result of their Indiana vs. Texas Hack submission marked the first contract to result from a hackathon in the State of Indiana and one of the first such contracts in the country. Reborn Code Founder and CEO Darye Henry attributes his company’s success to understanding public sector timelines and encourages other local startups to follow suit. “The startup community needs to be more patient,” said Henry. “The fact that they are reaching out at all is a big first step.” Henry says Reborn Code will continue working with IOT into the new year and hopes his efforts help blaze a trail for more local tech shops to work with the State. We hope so too, Darye!
#1 – Central Indiana launches open data portal – November 16th
Undoubtedly the top spot for this year goes to the highly anticipated rollout of the regional open data portal in November. Indy might have been a little late in joining the open data party, but as one of the first truly regional portals in the country, we certainly knew how to make an entrance. Indianapolis, Fishers, Zionsville, and Greenwood joined forces to establish a regional data sharing initiative that connects each city to a new portal – data.indy.gov. While the portal is currently limited to a handful of data sets, it’s important to understand the potential of this new resource. For the first time ever, agencies across multiple municipalities have the ability to share information in near real time to a centralized location. Anyone with an internet connection has access to unfiltered information direct from its source. Creating this centralized data repository opens a world of potential benefits to municipal agencies, local businesses, and the community as whole. For local government, the free flow of data allows agencies to direct resources more efficiently, save taxpayer dollars, and provide information to constituents in a 21st century manner. For businesses, the data creates a whole new path to potential products and solutions. For the community, the data provides an opportunity to engage a wide spectrum of interest groups to better understand, debate, and resolve issues.
In 2016, the Open Indy Brigade endeavors to keep growing Central Indiana’s civic tech movement. Please join us January 14th for our first meetup of the year as we forge our plans for 2016 and chart the path forward.
Thank you again to everyone who worked to make 2015 such a remarkable success!
Captain, Open Indy Brigade