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2.4 Hackathons

A photograph of three young men sat together each with laptops, engaging in a conversation.
Figure 8 Autumn 2010 hackNY Student Hackathon

The use of the term ‘hacking’ might surprise you. Generally it’s used in relation to cyber security and the use of computers to gain unauthorised access to data. In our context, however, a civic hacker is a person who collaborates with others to build open source solutions using publicly released data, code and technology. As you’ve seen in the video, a hackathon is an event organised to bring all these people together.

Joshua Tauberer [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] , a civic hacker in Washington DC, has published a guide to running a successful hackathon (Tauberer, 2015). Civic hackers might be programmers, data researches, entrepreneurs, citizens, city government employees, artists or anyone with an interest in working together, often in groups of two to five individuals, to solve civic problems.

An International Open Data Hackathon takes place on Open Data Day and maps the events happening around the world. There are also national programmes that organise hackathons.

Code for Europe is a programme that strives to solve local civic challenges by enabling agile temporary teams of developers to create solutions that are easily re-useable elsewhere in Europe. Cities can join as partner cities and host Code for Europe fellowships.

Code for America creates and deploys open source software for local governments through five civic technology programmes – the Fellowship, the Brigade, the Peer Network, a Civic Startups programme and an international activities programme.

You may also hear the term ‘hackable cities’. Amsterdam has a Hackable City project, a research-by-design project that focuses on the role of digital media platforms in processes of city-making. The project collaborates with the people in Buiksloterham, Amsterdam, in order to find out how they make their own city through a wide range of do-it-yourself projects. It has worked with citizens, for example, in the process of redesigning the streets, creating a tool that makes it possible for cyclists to hack the design proposals of the municipality and collaboratively create the best solutions for local traffic situations. Here’s the video of the project.

Activity 3 Thinking about hackathons

Timing: Allow about 10 minutes

Think back to your city problem. Do you think a hackathon would be a useful process for sourcing potential solutions?

What types of open dataset would be used at your hackathon? These might not yet exist for your city but don’t worry about that.

Who would you want to involve in your hackathon? Make notes in the Smart Cities Project Ideas Template.

Further reading

You might be interested in this toolkit for re-imagining your neighbourhood.