More Civic Hackers In NE Wisconsin

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I started writing a post about civic hacking and PDFs (portable document format computer files, but sometimes thought to be pretty disgusting format). While reading my fifth article about journalists and PDFs, I started thinking that we need to get journalists involved with civic hacking in NE Wisconsin. That led to thinking about how to connect with journalists and other groups of like-minded people with high potential or compelling reasons to be civic hackers. The PDF post got pushed to the wayside (temporarily) by my journalist musings…

Even though the title of this post is “More Civic Hackers In NE Wisconsin,” the issue I’m writing about today isn’t just getting more people involved in civic hacking, although that would be good too. I just couldn’t come up with a title that appealed to me and conveyed ‘getting more of the right people involved.’ The real goal of this post is to get people from specific demographic groups involved because they will bring resources, skills, networks, and points of view which will make civic hacking in our region more valuable and effective.

The first question is, ‘what groups of people we should focus on for our communications, PR and personal invitations?’ The demographics that pop up in my mind are:

  1. Journalists
  2. Technologists
  3. Civic Activists
  4. Non-English Speakers
  5. Handicapped
  6. Students


The abundance of articles about journalists and open data is an indicator of their interest in a topic highly relevant to civic hacking. Keeping governments transparent and accountable is a traditional role of media people, so they should be interested in making more government data open and meaningful to the general public. Having the Knight Foundation and the Nieman Foundation supportive of civic hacking is a good clue that journalists will have some level of interest in participating in civic hacking activities. And the reverse may be true — civic hackers may want to support journalism activities. As Melody Kramer suggests,

“…Community members could receive one year of [NPR] station membership by remotely digitizing, tagging, and transcribing a certain amount of audio or video material that would allow stations to resurface their existing archives and generate new revenue streams…Stations could partner with existing civic hacking organizations or developer bootcamps in their communities to create maps and interactives for reporting projects, like this Election Night map that was created by the civic tech group Code for DC in conjunction with WAMU. Stations could offer to host these groups and extend year-long memberships to them for contributing their skills and expanding the reach of a station’s reporting…”


For lack of a better term, I’m using the word ‘technologist’ to describe people who use and enjoy technology. Since technology, especially computing technology, is involved in many civic hacks, there are a variety of reasons for this group to be involved with civic hacking.

  • Personal benefit — they can use their technology skills to have fun (a) fixing a problem, (b) being part of a like-minded community, (c) learning new skills, or (d) working toward making money from civic tech.
  • Altruism — through the use of their tech skills, they can make the community a better place by solving government related problems and lack of adequate government funding for people with leading edge tech knowledge.
  • Subversion — with technology they can expose bad government to the light of day — and sometimes even fix it!


Most of the people currently involved in NE Wisconsin civic hacking are technologists, partly because the activity appeals to them and partly because I knew and invited a lot of technologists to the June 6 civic hackathon. A participant-driven event will reflect the personal and professional networks of the participants who are organizing and actively promoting the event. BarCamp Fond du Lac was first organized by a librarian, so many of the participants in the first BarCamp FDL were library people, and many of the sessions were about library topics. Because of this tendency, we also need to get people involved in civic hacking from the other five demographics listed in this post.

Although a few technologists in NE Wisconsin are aware of civic hacking, my guess is that 95+% of the region’s tech people are not. It would be great to get a few people enthusiastically evangelizing, or at least making fellow technologists aware of civic hacking in the Northeast Wisconsin Developers Users Group (NEWDUG) and Women in Technology Wisconsin, as well as figuring out ways to publicize the events among technologists who aren’t part of organized technology groups.

Civic Activists

It seems like civic activists are a natural fit for civic hacking activities, but I don’t have any good ideas for how to connect with civic activists or for making sure they are aware of the NE Wisconsin civic hacking activities. If you have suggestions about how to do that, please show up at our next meetup or hackathon to discuss your ideas and maybe develop a Next Step or two for getting this demographic involved.

Multilingual And Non-English Speakers

Well, I know ONE thing for sure. The residents of NE Wisconsin who don’t speak English are going to get less out of my blog than do the six people who occasionally stop by to read it. The reason I list non-English speakers as a target group is because most of the government websites and documents in our region are in English. If there’s not a government regulation requiring multi-lingual versions of websites and documents, civic hacking seems like a reasonable alternative to make the most useful parts of that information available to a non-English speaking audience. The people with the biggest incentive to have non-English versions of government information are people who don’t speak English, people whose family members don’t speak it well, or people who work a lot with the issue of non-English speakers. Civic hacks related to non-English government info will largely depend on having multilingual and non-English speaking people participate in our events.

Handicapped People

This is pretty much the same situation as non-English speakers. People who are most interested in widespread handicapped access in our communities and solutions to government-related handicapped problems are handicapped people, people whose family members are handicapped, or people who work a lot with handicapped issues. To build a cadre of people working on handicapped-relevant issues, we need to get those first two or three people who will have personal or professional networks concerned about this topic.


As far as I know, we haven’t had many students involved in the three civic hacking events held to-date in NE Wisconsin. Here’s one reasonably relevant reason to get students involved — some schools have a community service requirement. Wouldn’t it be great if students had an opportunity and the assistance to develop civic hacks as all or part of their community service. Not all students would choose the civic hacking option, but I’m betting a few geek students would jump at the opportunity. For more about getting students involved, see “Civic Hacking For Everyone, Part 2: Students.”

The above six types of people have good reasons to be civic hackers. If you know people who fit any of the six hacker profiles, consider inviting them to participate in the next NE Wisconsin civic hacking festivities!

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