In Philadelphia, we like to think of our city as “The City of Firsts.” The first plans of defiance against the British were at Carpenters’ Hall. The American Anti-Slavery Society held its first meeting at Arch Street Meeting House. We had the first independent African American church, the first public library, and the first professional school for women. But behind all of these “firsts” was the greater good for their community. The citizens saw opportunities to address and correct problems in their city—often without asking permission. When you don’t sit around and wait for someone else to fix the problem, you’re bound to be the first.

Our upcoming Civic Engagement Launchpad (#CELaunchpad) will continue this proud Philadelphia tradition. We love our city and want it to shine its brightest, but sometimes even the best silver needs polish.

We the technologists of Philadelphia, in order to form a more perfect Philadelphia, will come together to use data and technology to address the problems that face all Philadelphians.

Community Needs Assesment Night at Democracy Hackathon 2016. Elected officials and citizens met to discuss the future of our city in City Hall's Caucus Room.
Community Needs Assesment Night at Democracy Hackathon 2016. Elected officials and citizens met to discuss the future of our city in City Hall's Caucus Room.

Some of our veteran community members may wonder about the name of this event.

The CELaunchpad is a new name and format for our previous annual Democracy Hackathon.


Hackathon has long been a contentious term. For people within the tech space, hacking is a familiar concept that doesn’t necessarily mean malicious intent. People outside of the tech bubble may only know hacking from news headlines reporting cyber attacks. Not to mention the particularly heated discussion around hacking related to politics.

Our events at Code for Philly rise above the fray, and calling our events hackathons doesn’t quite reflect what we do.

Our events include coding, but aren’t limited to it. Civic tech projects bring together a diversity of skill sets to solve hard problems.

The #CELaunchpad is a month-long, project-launching “sprint” focused on improving democratic systems and creating tools for greater civic engagement.

We’re repeating the month-long format after success in our experimental format change at CaaSH Project Demo Night.

At the hackathon demo night we saw projects that were more polished, more functional, and better organized than anything we’ve seen in the past. These projects were closer to version 1.0 of a product.

The most important difference we saw were the blooming relationships between project teams and city offices—and a more comprehensive understanding of the data itself.

Previous hackathons had produced some cool tools, maybe a spiffy website or two. Cool for some tech communities, but Code for Philly members want to make more of an impact.

At the end of CaaSH we knew we had something different, and so did our community. We’re really excited to see what happens when this experimental format is applied to a theme focused on democratic systems and tools for civic engagement.

At first glance, the Civic Engagement Launchpad focus might seem too broad. Isn’t everything that Code for Philly does built around using tech and data as a means of civic engagement? How is this launchpad any different?

Here’s what to expect at #CELaunchpad:

  • Friday, March 24th: Project Brainstorm in City Hall’s Caucus Room. City Council uses this room to meet and converse before City Council Meetings. This is a chance to engage community members and stakeholders to share ideas and to develop opportunity statements. You can submit your ideas early by using our Project Idea Submission Form.

  • Saturday, March 25th: Project Day. Teams organize around the ideas presented the night before. The morning includes structured project design and development workshops so projects can effectively spend their development time over the month.

  • Tuesday, April 25th: Demo Night. In front of a panel of distinguished local experts, teams can show off what they accomplished over the course of the Launchpad.

  • Between the Project Brainstorm and Project Demo Night, weekly events and other planned programming will support teams as they develop their project.

Near Green presents as brigade member Kristerpher Henderson snaps a pic.
Near Green presents as brigade member Kristerpher Henderson snaps a pic.

Sharing ideas at Democracy Hackathon 2015
Sharing ideas at Democracy Hackathon 2015


Who is Code for Philly?

Code for Philly is an open community group that helps people in Philly work together to solve problems and improve life through technology. Some of us are programmers or designers, others are makers or problem solvers, a handful are urbanists or journalists, but everyone is a civic hacker. We believe in the power of knowledge — orchestrated by code — to drive transformative and sustainable change in cities. We don’t wait for permission to improve our city because it’s our home to improve. Inclusive, collaborative, and creative, our members develop diverse projects that take on some of Philly’s most pressing issues.

What is a Launchpad?

Simply put, and as the name might suggest, Launchpads are structured project creation events. This means that we get together for a period of time to create new projects from the ideation stage to functional (or at least semi-functional) prototypes. It’s also a great excuse to eat food, drink lots of coffee, hang out with friends and meet new people. Friday night begins with a happy hour to socialize a bit and come up with a few project ideas based on problem statements and/or available data. Project ideas are posted along the walls and every attendee gets a number of “upvote” stickers to stick to their favorites as they mingle through the projects. On Saturday morning we hit the ground running with teams self-selecting around favored project ideas from the night before. Teams then have a month to prototype a solution and put together a brief presentation to present to a panel of expert judges. The judges challenge teams to defend their ideas and award available prizes to the most fitting projects, but everyone is encouraged to continue their civic hacking efforts at the weekly Code for Philly hack nights.

Who should come/what if I’m not a coder?

If you’re passionate about Philadelphia, if you think you can help make it more democratic, and if you believe in the power of code to facilitate change, you should come! Civic hacking and launchpads benefit from participants of all types of backgrounds and levels of expertise. Technologists with advanced, professional skills can take the lead in project design and development. Mid-level members take on tasks that support their learning and contribute to project advancement. Even those with no technological skills at all can play vital roles in researching, designing, and launching projects. Subject-matter experts are essential to the quality, sustainability, and scalability of a project. Content experts and partner organizations contribute extensive, nuanced knowledge of the subject matter; they help guide and structure a project so that it tackles key needs, creating the greatest possible impact.

Find us @CodeforPhilly on Twitter and Instagram to follow and add to the conversation with #CELaunchpad!

As with all our events, we require attendees to follow our Code of Conduct.

City Hall's Caucus Room
City Hall's Caucus Room