Hackers Challenged to Tackle Social Problems in Upcoming Hackathons

The government knows an awful lot about you, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, at least in the eyes of the organizers of the National Day of Civic Hacking.

The day is an attempt to bring entrepreneurs, software developers, and activists together with government agencies to take on close-to-home problems like pollution monitoring or improving services like public transit. Another goal is to make something useful out of the enormous amount of data collected by the government.

It takes place Saturday and Sunday with 95 events scheduled around the country, including two in Colorado.

Organizers also want to develop the concept of “civic hacking,” in which tech specialists work together and with the government.

“‘Civic hackers’ as we think about it for the National Day of Civic Hacking are technologists, civil servants, designers, entrepreneurs, engineers—anybody—who [are] willing to collaborate with others to create, build, and invent to address challenges relevant to our neighborhoods, our cities, our states and our country,” organizers said on the event’s website.

This is the National Civic Day of Hacking’s debut year, and it has drawn support from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and corporate sponsors including Intel.

Most of the events are hackathons with the goal of building programs that can make use of datasets about pollution, cost-of-living, and education, among other subjects.

The Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Housing and Urban Development are among the federal agencies making data available. Cities like Los Angeles, Houston, and Boulder, CO, are opening up their datasets. The datasets will not contain information that is confidential or could be used to identify individuals, according to organizers.

Organizers hope that making data available will promote more “open data” initiatives. They also want to build new connections and change how the tech community views the ways they can address social issues, wrote Jason Lally, a member of the Hack4Colorado organizing team. Lally also helped organize Colorado Code for Communities.

“I believe civic hacking and the activities around it are about empowering people with tools to work on hard problems. In many cases, the solution is less important than the working together and unpacking what a ‘solution’ really means,” Lally wrote. “I want to build an empowered and excited community. After the dust settles and the winners go home, there will still be work to do.”

Two events are scheduled in Colorado, and each will offer prizes to winning teams in various categories.

In Denver, Galvanize will host Hack4Colorado. The hackathon begins Friday night with a reception before participants begin trading ideas and putting together teams. It culminates Sunday morning with judging and awards. Hack4Colorado is awarding the winners of six tracks and the Best in Show with $2,000 each, and other prizes are available. The tracks are sustainability, veterans, health and wellness, sports and fitness, education, and tourism.

HUB Boulder will host the Boulder Civic Hackfest, which will start at noon on Saturday. The prizes and categories are yet to be determined.

The Day of Civic Hacking is getting a good amount of local support. Rally Software Development is a national sponsor, and many local startups and companies like ReadyTalk in Denver and Quick Left in Boulder are local sponsors.

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