Build a better civic hackathon: lessons from Education Hack Day

ShineOn Storytelling created an excellent video overview of Education Hack Day, held November 12 and 13 in Baltimore (see also a deep-dive overview and list of winners at Startup Baltimore).

For those of you organizing civic hackathons, what’s important to note is that this was a collaborative effort between teachers and developers. Teachers outlined their problems. Developers addressed them.

Too many civic hackathons focus on developer vanity projects that don’t address real technology issues governments face. Government must be proactive in organizing and sharing their needs and collaborate with civic-minded developers during hackathons like Education Hack Day to get these problems addressed. Developers need to focus on projects that make a difference and provide sustainable technology solutions.

For related discussions on this, see Alex Howard’s “Everyone jumped on the app contest bandwagon. Now what?” and Andy Oram’s “App outreach and sustainability: lessons learned by Portland, Oregon.”


(Thumbnail photo by Mark Headd)

Luke Fretwell is the founder of the civic innovation and technology blog GovFresh. He advises civic leaders and businesses on how to best leverage digital strategies to create more effective, collaborative governments. He has written about government IT for Federal Computer Week, NextGov, FedScoop, StateScoop and FierceGovernment, and has been referenced by the Washington Post and Fast Company on civic technology issues. He has worked with a number of government-focused companies and media, including CivicActions, NuCivic and FedScoop and has been involved in broad-focused community efforts, such as GovPress, CityCamp, CivicMeet, Agile Government Leadership and Open Source for America. Connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn.


Thank you

Every day I get to engage with entrepreneurs, public sector innovators and journalists on re-imagining and re-energizing how government works, what it means to be “civic,” and this year has been an incredible one for many friends and colleagues.

Funding government technology

I’m always inspired talking and working with entrepreneurs trying to solve big civic problems, especially those who realize much of the challenge lies within modernizing and empowering internal government operations, so it was great to finally meet with Govtech Fund Founder and Managing Partner Ron Bouganim this week.

Government and the ’empowered product owner’

The 18F Delivery team released a “Partnership Playbook” that aims to help federal agencies understand what to expect when working with 18F, and the gem within is play number two, “We work with an empowered product owner.”

Benchmarking for better government

Citizens simply glaze over when they are confronted by a sea of large numbers with many zeros. These figures need to be relatable to the person reading the data. Otherwise, open data is just more data that dies on the vine.

Why local government must go digital

The Welsh Government released a report of its findings on how local government in Wales can better leverage digital technologies and realize significant savings while still providing quality, scalable citizen services.

‘No ugly, old IT.’

“No ugly, old IT” jumped out at me when I first reviewed DataSF’s strategic plan, “Data in San Francisco: Meeting supply, spurring demand,” and it still sticks, mostly because someone inside government was so bold as to make this a priority and openly communicate it and also because this should be a mantra for everyone building civic technology.

Why is a big deal

Enabling internal government tech shops to quickly stand up applications in a secure testing environment is fundamental to quick prototyping, and 18F’s new is a major step in realizing ultimate IT flexibility.


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