National Day of Civic Hacking Brings Open Government to the Forefront


National Day of Civic Hacking Brings Open Government to the Forefront

By Adam Karides

On September 23rd, cities from around the United States participated in the National Day of Civic Hacking, a series of volunteer hackathon events designed to facilitate private-public sector collaboration and problem solving by introducing technologists to government innovation opportunities. Each host city selected specific issues to address, provided some introductory information, and then welcomed anyone to participate and help tackle these issues. This nationwide event was orchestrated by Code For America and hopes to promote and better leverage open data and other government resources to foster greater private-public collaboration that will solve our country’s most pressing challenges. Here is a recap of the issues and solutions that were discussed.

  1. Preventing Suicide Through Predictive Analytics

For many suicide candidates, the writing's on the wall well before they decide to take their own lives. Fortunately, these indicators primarily live on social media, and this data can be combed through and traced to develop models that predict when an individual is on the verge of committing suicide. And when this data is combined with other sources such as health records, artificial intelligence (AI) machine learning programs can perform predictive analytics to identify the most at-risk suicide prospects. The more open government data such as the Veterans Affairs (VA) Open Data Portal that becomes available, the more effective these systems will be in predicting and preventing possible suicides to ultimately save more lives.

  1. Combating the Opioid Crisis Through Targeted Advertising

Despite the increased attention toward opioid abuse, including prescription drugs, opioid-related deaths continue to skyrocket. A proposed solution to reverse this trend is the development of user personas to bridge the gap between the growing population of sufferers and the ample resources available to help them. Open data provides key demographic and economic data to provide insights that portray a typical user’s background, behaviors, interests, and pain points. For example, the presenting group devised a persona called Walter, a white male suffering from chronic pain who is also active on social media. These insights then inform targeted advertisements that are displayed to him, and in this particular case, guide him to support groups on Reddit. Walter can now interact with and learn from individuals enduring similar hardships with hopes that he will then be motivated to seek treatment.  

  1. Tracking Lyme Disease Through Crowdsourcing and Cryptocurrency

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates nearly 300,000 new cases of Lyme Disease, more than HIV and invasive breast cancer diagnoses combined. Needless to say, Lyme Disease is a public health endemic and will continue to be as climate change increasingly transforms habitats into hotbeds for ticks to transmit this illness. However, there is plenty of room to innovate, as demonstrated by the ‘Tick Tracker’ program that was presented. This proposed solution is an interactive website designed to spread awareness of the disease, incorporates a crowdmapping reporting tool that enables individuals to archive when and where a tick is spotted, and includes built-in cryptocurrency mining integration to raise funds for this cause.

  1. Applying Open Data to Build Effective Hurricane Disaster Relief Services

The hackathon united government representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the United States Geological Survey (USGS), Geographic Information System (GIS) architects, crowdmapping experts, and data visualization specialists to improve disaster relief efforts and operations. Participants were tasked with improving three particular projects: 1) FEMA’s Crowdsourcing-based Damage Assessment Program using Civil Air Patrol and Drone Aerial Footage 2) Data Visualization Tools backed by social media analytics, open data collected and provided by Homeland Infrastructure Foundation-Level Data (HIFLD), and other data sources 3) Building Hurricane Harvey, Irma, and Maria Projects on OpenStreetMaps’s open-sourced mapping tool.

  1. Continuing the Development of the  Fourth U.S. National Action Plan for Open Government

That National Day of Civic Hacking provided an opportunity to further polish the desired goals that the Open Government Initiative’s fourth National Action Plan (NAP) hopes to achieve. Specifically, this fourth NAP focuses on and identifies blockchain technology, artificial intelligence, and open data as instruments to drive innovation and openness in our government.

The National Day of Civic Hacking was my first hackathon. In addition to feeling somewhat out of place due to a lack of computer science skills, I was skeptical of how much progress would be made during such a short window of time. Needless to say, I was blown away by not only the magnitude of brilliant ideas that percolated, but also the concrete solutions that were proposed. And most importantly, I was impressed by the way in which these solutions were forged. Without the collective spirit and sheer desire to fix these issues, the rich ideation that produced these solutions would never have occurred. Not a single person at the Sibley Innovation Hub felt daunted by the weight of these issues, and in conjunction with the increasingly available open data resources, I am confident these challenges will be addressed head-on.