Akron Civic Hackathon 2014 Recap, Next Steps

Akron Civic Hackathon 2014 Recap

National Day of Civic Hacking , locally Akron Civic Hackathon, was a great experience in 2014 as members of our government as well as volunteer technologists both got to appreciate tech problems and came up with techniques to solve these problems.

I felt like providing the community a recap from the event here, as I know a lot of folks that wanted to attend weren’t able to. Personally, I believe Jack would have been proud.

Akron Civic Hackathon benefited this year from hosting some interesting local problems.

Kudos to City of Akron’s Economic Development department for leading an effort which will enable members of our community to search for fiscal information about monies spent in a specific region in our city. Mark from their team explained the problem in detail at the event. We then as a team worked on how to approach their problem in such a way that maximises opening and sharing of data. In our case, that resulted in writing a parser that would process some of the city’s spreadsheets and export plain-text information that either their internal GIS system could use or could be shared with other technologists to build reports out of. Please find the source code for this work here: https://github.com/gsvolt/AkronCivicHackathon2014

We also worked on LocalWiki’s Akron instance online at http://www.localwiki.net/akron and learned how to use their system. Using that knowledge we proceeded to add some test data about charities in the area as reported by IRS. We found their system provided a street search that was not working yet. So, instead we opted to manually find the geographical region where we plotted points for the locations of the charities. Next, we tagged the charities with the “charity” tag. We were pleasantly surprised to view the results here: http://localwiki.net/akron/map/tags/charity

A few local charities got mapped! And they are editable too!

This proved that not only can we succeed at curating information about Akron, but we can also solve the challenge CharityPins right on the LocalWiki platform, making it easier for members of our community to find charities in our city! We ran out of time to programmatically insert data into their system so volunteers hope to interface with the API provided by localwiki upon attaining API access from their team.

East Liverpool Fire Department was not able to participate in-person at our event due to conflicts with their truck repairs. Volunteers were able to use OpenShift platform provided by RedHat and their documentation here https://github.com/openshift-quickstart/adopt-a-hydrant-openshift-quickstart and spun up a sample instance, and tested it. The fire department’s team plans to provide location data about fire hydrants that will be deployed in the sample instance and then launched to their residents.

City of Akron employee Dan Witmer was able to provide his Excel skills to Shante Robinson who needed help with creating a pivot table for his fatherhood based charity. It worked out both ways, members of government helped volunteers too!!

I thank Ken Burns from Tiny Circuits LLC for stopping by at the event and share knowledge of his company with attendees.

I also thank Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic for his visit during the final hours of Day One. He was able to communicate his thoughts directly with the volunteers!

I’m glad that within three weeks of this event’s organization, we as a community made these changes together that add value. This event wouldn’t have been made possible without help from SYN/HAK and Knight Foundation, it simply was the best experience I had as an event organizer. Period.

Lastly, thought I’d share with you, two of my favorite photos from the event:

Akron Civic Hackathon 2014 - Day One
Akron Civic Hackathon 2014 – Day One

L-R: G (Gaurav N Saxena), Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic, Alex Kot, Adele Roth, Torrie Fischer, Shante Robinson, Nick Petroski, Jon Knapp

Akron Civic Hackathon 2014 - Day Two
Akron Civic Hackathon 2014 – Day Two
L-R: G, Jon Knapp, Torrie Fischer, Nick Petroski, City of Akron Manager Mark Moore
Rest of the photos I took have been made available on my flickr account here:

An interesting Civic Hack (between day one and two):

After Day One of the event, I met with Shante Robinson and learned through him that his office housed a clock tower right at Highland Square, West of Akron downtown. Minutes before I dropped him at his office, I had him visit Synhak. Shante let me know that since starting working at his office space, he never really found the reason for ‘why does our clock tower not work?’

I offered to help on the spot. I’m glad he had ladder access to the attic and a flat head screw driver. I used the ladder, a screwdriver, an iPhone as a flashlight to trace the power cable powering the electronic display mounted at the clock tower.

In jubilation, I tweeted Shante’s victory pose on twitter:


Hopefully the Highland Square community can reap the benefits of the clock tower, as soon as Shante orders the replacement bussman fusetron frn 50 amp dual-element time delay class R5 fuses for it!!

Next steps:

I am committed to hosting Akron Civic Hackathon 2015.

Some attendees this year expressed a desire to even schedule a few more hackathons in between.

As I have more information planned, will let the community know.

I thank everyone for contributing their time in making this event a success, and hope that with these efforts we see technology assisting our leaders in solving hard problems.

Knight Foundation has a really good recap they posted online, check it out here:

I know I will in preparation for next year’s event 🙂