Improving Government Services CAN Be Innovative

Recently, I wrote about some very progressive things going on right here in Indiana.  To expand on that, I was privileged to attend a conference that focuses on making government services better, cheaper and more effective.  For civic tech, this is the premier conference and is organized by Code for America.

The Code for America Summit attracted thousands of attendees from both the civic tech and policy worlds.  The Summit exhibited many forward thinking approaches to government both nationally and even internationally.  Not only were there examples of new IT systems, but also – somewhat surprisingly –  highlighted bold new approaches to policy-making too.

The theme of the Summit was well articulated by “bookend” quotes – one at the beginning and one at the end. The Summit started with “Are we just a crowd of voices or are we a crowd of hands?” This highlights a key principle in civic tech which is to not just talk or complain about something; but rather, get involved and DO something.

Through the various talks and breakout sessions, many successful techniques were described.  Whether it is “journey mapping” or a roadmap to public engagement, each was described in context of a successful project.  Often times, media likes to focus on the spectacular failures.  However, the Summit and a recent New York Times article, focused on what works.

The Summit ended with a battle cry, of sorts: Cultivate the Karass.  At first, I had no idea what this was supposed to mean.  However as it was explained, I realized that it is a serendipitous connection back to Indiana! Karass is adapted from Indianapolis native, Kurt Vonnegut, and is defined in this context as: “A spontaneously forming group join by unpredictable links – that actually gets stuff done”…a great note to end on.

Civic tech is hard and working with governments is hard.  However, it is possible to create innovative solutions to community problems.  It does people that will commit to action…and possibly the most important aspect is that true success requires a diverse and inclusive group representing policy, tech and the community.

We’ve definitely seen this over 2016 with Open Indy Brigade.  We continue to invite everyone to participate – all backgrounds, skills and experience.  It is that diversity that will help enable the best solutions!

Help Answer Transit Questions At The Indy Civic Hackathon

These days it’s pretty great to be a central Indiana resident!  Here’s just a few reasons from recent news:

What? You haven’t heard much about the Indy Civic Hackathon? While it may not get as much press as some of these other items, it’s another great thing about the city that YOU can get involved in.

The Civic Hack is both part of the Indy Chamber’s Hack Indiana Series AND is part of the larger National Day of Civic Hacking (NDoCH). This is a weekend devoted to honoring a new trend: Civic Innovation.  The idea is that ordinary citizens who happen to have some skills in coding, designing, data or policy get together to help improve our community using open data and open source software.

In just a few years, the participants have grown to over a hundred cities across the US and even worldwide.  Last year’s event in Indianapolis, drew over 150 to work on challenges provided by state government and schools.

This year, the #indycivichack is all about transit. On 6/3-6/4 at the new IndyGo Transit Center downtown, not only are IndyGo and Pacers Bike Share providing challenges, the City of Indianapolis is also letting teams get creative by providing datasets to mashup with the transit information.

To help promote civic innovation for the civic hack; and more importantly, continue to improve our community throughout the year, Open Indy Brigade (OIB) was started last year.  From just a few core members and humble beginnings, OIB is now a central hub for all things related to civic innovation.  Some highlights of what we’ve accomplished in just one short year include:

  • OIB strategic plan and organizational structure
  • Monthly civic tech meetups & social media presence (website, Twitter, Slack, Meetup)
  • UX review of government services(ongoing)
  • Assessment of Indiana’s “State of Open Data”(planned release before June Civic Hack)
  • Indy’s Regional Open Data Portal (support/promotion)
  • Indy Chamber’s hackathons(advising/planning)
  • Leading State’s open data policy summer study committee

To promote and support Indy Chamber’s Indy Civic Hack, OIB’s next meetup on 5/12 will preview and discuss the civic hack topics.

Come out to the Speak Easy this Thursday to brainstorm ideas or start to find teammates.  At the very least, come out to see what a civic hackathon can be and be part of one the coolest things about Indianapolis!!