City as a Service Hackathon Friday night kickoff
City as a Service Hackathon Friday night kickoff

Over the weekend of September 23rd-25th we kicked off our final hackathon for 2016, City as a Service Hackathon (aka CaaSH).

I wrote about how this hackathon is probably different than most you’ve been to. Instead of a weekend, we’re giving you a month to develop a project.

That’s because at Code for Philly process is the product. It’s the act of getting involved in your city and making it a better place, that we’re concerned with.

Most civic tech projects need much more than a weekend to:

  • Define a complex social issue
  • Look for inspiration and other use cases
  • Meet with stakeholders
  • And, oh yeah, develop some software

We don’t talk about it much, but Code for Philly projects are software development, and that’s no simple task. It takes a diverse set of skills, a dedicated team, and a strong vision with collaborators to make a project successful.

City as a Service Hackathon
City as a Service Hackathon

In the hackathon name CaaSH, there’s a hint of parity between city government and software development (plus a nod to the Wu-Tang Clan, influential in circles of all kinds).

The name, when it was first conceived, was partially tongue-in-cheek. But the more we said it, the more sense it made. H/T to Pat Hammons who came up with the name in our hackathon planning group during a typical, feverish Slack chat filled with lots of puns and emojis.

Government as a Platform, and in our case City as a Service, is the notion of a historic, massive institution modernizing to match the expectations set by fast-pace, nimble technologies. That was the focus of this hackathon. Our goal was to think of ways that government processes and workflows could improve for better overall services provided by government and better overall lives for the residents who live here.

Chief of Staff to Mayor James Kenney, Jane Slusser, cut her operations teeth on a startup that matched volunteer skills with non-profit needs. As she spoke about her experience at our Friday night kick-off event, Jane compared city government to a startup—not what you generally think of with government.

For Jane, though the city might be behind on technology, she also knows it’s full of dedicated people working on important problems with limited resources.

A great example is Rebecca Swanson and her team at the Department of Licenses and Inspections. Her team worked to get several new datasets open in time for the hackathon, and! some of her team were actually at the hackathon to act as subject-matter experts on the data. Rebecca announced the newly minted datasets on Friday night asking the Code for Philly community to use it’s creativity and apply the data to applications.

While some of our other signature hackathons have focused on specific subjects like health, environment, and transportation, this hackathon was focused on the actual service delivery that government is responsible for.

Jane Slusser, Chief of Staff, Office of Mayor James F. Kenney, City of Philadelphia
Jane Slusser, Chief of Staff, Office of Mayor James F. Kenney, City of Philadelphia

That service delivery is no small task. And the institutional knowledge and practices that predate 21st century technologies act as a powerful pull in the opposite direction. That’s partially why we focused on bringing in subject-matter experts to talk about both the data that was recently made open (s/o to L&I and Philly 311.) and the processes that government goes through to make change happen.

Subject-matter experts help guide projects in the vision and direction of product development. They often help with non-technical aspects including project design and management. These are the less-talked-about, but arguably the most basic essentials, that get a project off the ground and keep going.

When subject-matter experts are people working directly in government, they bring specially unique insights. They also bring a unique dedication. These are the problems that affect them every day. For a lot of them, it’s not a weekend project. It’s what they eat, sleep, and breathe. They are in fact change makers working inside of government because, they too, are passionate about making government work better for the people government serves.

Code for Philly projects are civic, open source, and collaborative. The most successful projects are also co-created with government.

Check out the project highlights below to see more of what came out of the weekend kickoff. Keep following the conversation with #caash on Twitter, and join us at the demo night on Tuesday, October 25th at the Seer Interactive offices. The event is free, but space is limited.

City as a Service Hackathon
City as a Service Hackathon


We had two “evergreen” projects (projects that existed previously and continued to be worked on within the community) and five brand new projects. Many of the projects use open data released by various departments in the City of Philadelphia.

Stately Form-driven workflow engine. Making city government better, one form at a time. In many cases, there is already software out there — especially in the HR world — that handle these processes. When they’re available, you should use them. But when there isn’t software already available, or the agency doesn’t have access to it, the processes still exist; they just take place over email. Stately is for these processes.

Near Green Make healthy food accessible to the city of Philadelphia by helping residents find locations of health food stores nearby (based on the Walkable Corner Stores Project).

DeputyDashboard or D² (pronounced “dee squared”) Dashboard for viewing and filtering property in Philadelphia. This project is specifically using Sheriff sale data.

Imminently Dangerous Working to identify substandard rental housing.

Hackadashery A Philly 311 Dashboard that pulls in all 311 requests (not just requests made through the mobile app) to display what kinds of trends emerge among requests (and best project name? Yes, best project name).

Leverage Philly Campaign Finance. This is an Evergreen project, started at DemHack2016.

VoteWise is a non-profit non-partisan website aimed at connecting voters and politicians without advertising dollars getting in the way. This is also an Evergreen project.


Absolutely none of this would be possible without generous support from our sponsors. Without sponsors, we couldn’t provide meals at our weekly events or keep weekend hackathon costs low for participants over the last four years.

For this hackathon our sponsors helped us provide refreshments for our Friday night event, all our meals for Saturday, and most importantly, our awesomely comfortable shirts.

A big thank you to our sponsors for their support!

Presenting sponsor

Civic advocates

Civic supporters


Code for Philly is 100% volunteer-operated. The events are put together by smart, creative, and talented people dedicated to building and maintaining the civic tech community.

This hackathon was organized by a small planning group that did everything from imagine the programming to crafting the messaging to handling event logistics (not to mention have some fun while they’re at it!). Special s/o to Pat Woods, Jacqui Siotto, Rich McMillen, and Casey Vaughan for their leadership throughout the planning process.

Volunteering at Code for Philly is a great way to meet and work with really smart people, grow and stretch your skill set, and gain invaluable leadership experience.

While projects will always be an important part of Code for Philly and the community, volunteering is another great opportunity to get involved for especially motivated individuals. If you’re interested in contributing, please email us at