This blog is cross-posted from the Hack for Democracy website and is available in its original form here.
Wow, what an amazing weekend! The inaugural Hack for Democracy hackathon is a wrap!
Special thanks to everyone who came out Friday and Saturday to participate and to the organizations for presenting their challenges, we couldn’t have done it without you. We were very impressed by all the teams and know the organizations and judges were impressed with the solutions. If you weren’t able to make it out this weekend, below is a recap of the entire event. You can also watch videos from the weekend here.
On Friday night, three amazing organizations presented their challenges to the audience. Abe Rakov from Let America Vote presented the first challenge, which focused on helping voters register. Many states still don’t even have online voter registrations, so Abe asked the crowd for help around improving and making it easier to register voters, no matter what state someone is from. Slides and data for the Let America Vote presentation can be found here.
Next, Kade Crockford from the ACLU of Massachusetts presented a challenge around making it easier to make sense of the Boston Police data. There’s a lot of interesting, and alarming, information in the Boston police data but it gets overlooked because it’s not presented in a friendly or engaging way, so Kade asked attendees for help with that. Slides and the data sources from the ACLU presentation can be found here.
Finally, we had Gillian Pressman from Generation Citizen who presented the challenge of making civic education sexy. Young people want to be engaged in politics but often sit on the sidelines in big ways, so Gillian asked the audience for help creating awareness around this problem and Generation Citizen’s mission. Slides and information from Generation Citizen’s presentation can be found here.
On Saturday, people came from all over the Boston area (and some from out of state!) to work on these challenges. Many of the teams that formed didn’t know each other beforehand but were able to work together and create some pretty impressive projects.
During the day on Saturday, we had two demos by local professionals to help the teams with their projects. The first, by Mark Schifferli and Olivia Glennon from Fathom Information Design, guided participants through visualization tools using the Boston Police data from the ACLU challenge. You can watch the demo here and get the code for the demo here. It was a really interesting presentation on the tools used for data visualization, thank you Mark and Olivia!
Then Soubhik Barari from MIT GOV/LAB showed everyone how to build a web scraper. Soubhik walked through how you can set up your laptop to build a web scraping tool that can pull information off of web pages, like Twitter and Wikipedia. You can watch his demo here and get the code he used here. It was a very engaging presentation, thank you Soubhik!
To cap the night off and wrap up the hackathon, we had the teams present their work to a panel of judges. Among the impressive panel of judges was Professor Lily Tsai from MIT GOV/LAB and Cathy Wissink from Microsoft. After each team had a chance to present what they were working on, the judges came together to decide on the winners.
In third place was Team Data Debunkers, who created a really cool tool for visualizing the Boston police data on a map. In second place was Team Civic Learning who built a website for constituents to reach out to local representatives and ask questions about issues. And the winners of the hackathon was Team Friskers, who built an awesome Twitter and SMS bot that lets you know every time someone is stopped and frisked in the Boston area. You can watch all the winners and every team at the hackathon present their solutions here and check out the code for their projects here.
Our hope is that the momentum from this weekend continues and that the awesome projects and ideas that were formed at Hack for Democracy continue beyond the weekend. So please check out the projects on our Github page, reach out to the teams about helping out on their projects, and please stay in touch with us. We are looking to do more events like this in the coming months so if you haven’t signed up to receive emails from us, please do (sign up form is at the bottom of this page) as we will announce future plans through the email list.
We’d like to thank everyone who participated this weekend again, it was really inspiring and great to meet everyone.
Keep fighting the good fight!