Civic Hackers Must Work With Governments, Not Just Disrupt Them


I recently helped organize the National Civic Day of Hacking activities in Detroit and I was very impressed with my city’s outpouring of problems, and the hackers that came out to show support. Right now is a great time to be a technologist because our tools have advanced by leaps and bounds over the years. We have APIs, Open Data, app platforms, scalable backend services, and all the tools associated, which makes creating an app on a budget easier than ever.

This abundance of computing resources can be a force multiplier for civic hackers, when a decade ago many things wouldn’t be possible without a traditional data center and a small team of developers. However, there is still one issue that is standing in the way of progress: Building trust and understanding between the civil servant community, and the startup community.

The startup community thrives on failing fast, breaking things, and learning from mistakes. Startups celebrate failure to a degree that is unheard of in most civic circles. Startups also have a very casual attitude in terms of business and work culture. Hoodies, shorts, and flip-flops end up being the status quo for many. It’s this culture that allows us to thrive, and create value for consumers and other businesses alike.

Unfortunately, the road tends to get bumpy for tech geeks after venturing into the civic space. The “fail fast” mantra just doesn’t work in the civic space. Their customers are hardworking individuals in a community that need resources to gauge … Next Page »

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Matt Dobson is a Software Engineer on the Apigee Labs team based in Detroit. He's constantly building apps using new APIs and data sets, and teaching others to do the same. Follow @

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