I’ve had this discussion many times with different folks that are getting used to the concept of civic hacking.
The first question is usually, “how are civic hackathons any different from rallies or public hearings?”
Followed by, “is there any actual community impact from these sprint-like events?”
So let’s talk about three topics:
We want change in our communities. Nothing is more powerful than living in an environment that you adore and consider home and having the ability to improve it for everyone.
I have spent some time working with nonprofits that focus on making change through organizing town halls and larger federal hearings. The format of these interventions was traditional, in which an agency tried to communicate a message or solicited public opinion on a specific issue.
While these actions were meant to initiate change, the format of the approach kept the center of power with the agency rather than the community. After sharing information or getting feedback, it was up to the organization to decide how to act.
This isn’t to say that positive action didn’t happen after each event, but the goals and structure were such that the possibility of becoming an active community participant was extremely limited. Often this approach left community members feeling powerless and unheard because they had other concerns that they had no organized forum to address.
What first drew me to with civic hackathons was the ability to flatten the hierarchy and to make the decision-making process inclusive and collaborative. At a hackathon event, multiple people from various backgrounds work on each project or challenge, and the ability to hack a community issue depends on everyone listening, communicating and working together.
In my experience, this approach instantly changes team dynamics, increases buy-in from members and drives individual commitment to project success.
It’s a no-brainer — people love to be involved in shaping their community and working as a team…dare I say, a family.