The magnitude of last weekend’s National Day of Civic Hacking proved incredible. According to the event’s website, over 11,000 people participated in the hack-a-thon that boasted 95 local events, 38 states, 83 cities, and 2 territories. Chicago alone saw 400 of its residents eagerly join in three challenges from around the city. With such impressive turnout, it’s undeniable that we have a new movement on our hands—a new movement reinvigorating some tired modes of civic engagement that relies on the creativity, intellect, and collaboration of the public to find ways to improve government. In fact, civic designer, organizer, and activist Jake Levitas is willing to boldly claim that civic hacking is the new civic engagement. To arrive at such a declaration, however, requires a definition or some type of loose framework that might substantiate this activity of civic hacking backed by the enthusiasm of thousands as an actual movement.
Levitas works his way toward a definition in a blog post written over the weekend to coincide with the National Day of Civic Hacking. He points out that the national event was among the biggest days dedicated to civic engagement in recent history, arguing that “in many ways, it’s sort of a coming-of-age party for a new wave of engaged citizens.” With similar events occurring on a smaller scale across the country in the past few years, Levitas suggests that this national hack-a-thon marks a critical turning point for civic hacking, as it has made its way into the national spotlight and captured the attention of not only coders and designers but also the general face of a diverse citizenry wanting to establishing a more collaborative relationship with government. To that end, Levitas breaks down the term “civic hacking” into components and constructs a definition general enough to be inclusive of the varying approaches, acts, and contributors of the movement, but still points toward its intent to transform government:
Civic hacking is people working together quickly and creatively to help improve government.
While this definition might seem inappropriately broad (“Where’s the tech aspect that accompanies hacking?!” you might ask), Levitas purposefully applies a common vision so as to embrace the diversity that already makes up the growing movement and leaves room for it to evolve over time.
What do you think about Levitas’s definition of civic hacking? What would you add/take out? What does civic hacking mean to you? And do you agree that civic hacking is the new civic engagement? We’d love to hear your thoughts. Share with us on twitter (@uic_civicsource) or on Facebook.