Apps for Philly Democracy 2015 Logo
Apps for Philly Democracy 2015 Logo

1: We need more than coders

To design, build, and launch a project that has real impact takes far more than a group of programmers writing code over a weekend.

A good project starts with someone that has intimate experience with an issue, either being impeded by it or working to solve it. Designing a solution that can work for anybody takes empathy, psychology, branding, marketing, research, and a healthy dose of expertise in any relevant subject area. Building a prototype takes coders, UX designers, testers, data collection/entry, database designers, and systems administrators. Launching a project to the public takes legal expertise, promotion, community organizing, and partnerships with established organizations.

Whatever stage you want to help with, whether you’re a beginner or an expert, your time and energy this weekend can have a huge impact.

2: Expert panel of judges

Unlike many hackathons, our panel of judges isn’t here to rank your project and dole out a big pile of sponsor cash for your team to argue over splitting up. They are experts in fields connected to the hackathon’s theme, and their job is to help you identify the risks and opportunities in your project, providing actionable feedback that can guide your project forward.

Our panel of judges for this weekend’s hackathon are:

3: Open data, hot off the press

The City will be publishing six brand-new, never-before-released datasets just in time for this hackathon:

  • Polling Places API
  • Elected Committeepeople
  • Registered Voters
  • Voter Turnout - General Election 2014
  • Election Boards
  • Unofficial Candidates

Here are some recently released or updated datasets you can check out now:

Tons more can be found on OpenDataPhilly and on the resources page for Philly’s 2012 Hacks for Democracy.

4: Philly has a legacy ripe for reclaiming

Philly has a long history as the city of firsts, pioneering much of the technology that comprises the modern city — parks, libraries, hospitals, fire companies, public water, and computers to name a few. When it comes to reimagining existing and inventing new practices for how cities can operate in the information age, Philly is already at the front of the pack globally with its open data policy, open data team, and support of the local civic hacking community.

But we’ve only just begun to realize what information technology can do for a system born of an era where information technology meant paper, ships, and administrative bureaucracies. With our municipal government constantly raising the open data bar, one of the largest civic hacking communities in the world, and a booming creative and technology industry, we have the opportunity to once again unleash a wave of innovation copied by cities the world over.

A city doesn’t just use technology, it is a technology, and we can upgrade it without waiting for any permission.

5: You’ll have fun, gain valuable experience, and meet new people

A hackathon is first and foremost a fun event that should be personally rewarding for every attendee. You’ll meet people with shared interests and diverse backgrounds and see first hand how they approach and tackle problems. Whether you have a hobby you’d like to try taking more seriously, well-honed skill you want to make the most of, or a new technology you want to try out, a hackathon provides a low-stakes way to try it out on something real and get feedback in a safe, creative space. Challenge yourself to the max with something new or just take it easy and do what you know — it’s up to you.

6: We make finding a team/project easy

During the Community Needs Assessment on Friday, we’ll start off with an open mic session where anyone can take a minute (serious y’all: one minute) to share any problems they’d like to see tackled or propose solutions they’ve already thought of (you can share and vote on ideas ahead of time, too!). Each project idea will get written on a large post-it pad somewhere in the room, and its advocate is encouraged to hang around nearby. Attendee get a number of “upvote” stickers upon arrival, and can distribute them among ideas as they see fit. There’s plenty of room on the pads to add notes, questions, or new ideas. All you have to do is grab some snacks and a drink and wander around checking out ideas, chatting with others wherever your mutual interest gets caught.

We’ll transport all the idea pads generated on Friday night and set them up at the hackathon location on Saturday morning so you can check through them again over breakfast, see which were popular with attendees, and just hang out by the one you want to work on. Everyone who wants to work on the same idea is a team.

Apps for Philly Transit 2013: Community Needs Assessment
Apps for Philly Transit 2013: Community Needs Assessment

7: Ongoing support structure

It’s a common misconception that the point of hackathons is to build apps. The real purpose is to bring people together, make connections across communities, and lightly experiment with some new ideas.

If, after spending the weekend fleshing out a concept and exploring it with our panel of judges, you think your project is worth getting off the ground, Code for Philly provides the ultimate support structure for getting it done. We host five-hour workshops every week (food and Wi-Fi included) that you can attend at your leisure to work with your team, find new teammates, share your progress, or just put your head down and crunch for a couple hours.

Our leadership team spans industries and our network of partners span the city, so we can make the connections you need, provide the know-how you need, and build the infrastructure you need to take your idea from concept to a living part of the city.

8: Cool locations

Our Friday night Community Needs Assessment will be hosted in City Hall’s historic Caucus Room.

Then for the Saturday/Sunday hackathon we head across the street to the City’s new Municipal Innovation Lab, on the 16th floor of the Municipal Services Building.

Caucus Room @ City Hall
Caucus Room @ City Hall

See you this weekend!

Drop us a line on twitter @CodeForPhilly with questions or comments, and don’t forget to register for the hackathon separately from the Community Needs Assessment if you’re planning on coming to both events.

Registrations will be accepted at the door Saturday morning, but registering online ahead of time makes it easier for us to ensure the right amount of food.