Tag Archives: Random Hacks of Kindness

Trends in Civic Tech

16 Dec

Philly ForagR is Live

4 Dec

I’ve now participated in nine hackathons. Random Hacks of Kindness will always be first in my heart. So I had some pep in my step as I walked to Drexel University’s brand new ExCITe Center for #RHoKPhilly.

I didn’t pitch a project.

#PhillyRHoK Project Ideas

Instead, I joined Jason Blanchard, Christopher Brown, Brian Cohen, Max Freilich, Lauren Gilchrist, Justin Murphy, Christopher Nies and Andrew Thompson and worked on a web-based food access app.

Philly ForagR

We addressed the problem of limited access to healthy food, which is a contributing factor to the obesity crisis.

Philly ForagR Presentation

And developed a solution: Philly ForagR, a location-based app that promotes healthy living and well-being.

Philly Foragr Screenshot

Users can enter their address to find the location of supermarkets, grocery stores, farmers markets, etc., that sell healthy foods. They will be provided with public transit and walking directions. The walking directions will include the location of historic markers, murals and other points of interest along the way.

With a few clicks, users will have access to healthy recipes that they can whip up with the food they purchased.

Philly ForagR placed third at #RHoKPhilly. The app is live so you can test it for yourself.

For updated information, follow us on Twitter: @PhillyForagr.

My Year as a Civic Innovator

27 Nov

I’m a policy wonk and doer. This time last year, I didn’t have a clue what happened at a hackathon. I associated hackers with bad guys who stole identities and broke into websites. So you can imagine my delight to be introduced to a community of civic-minded hackers. Hackathons provide a platform for problem-solvers and do-gooders to collaborate and create interesting things.

My first hackathon was Random Hacks of Kindness in December 2011 at Drexel University. There, my team developed a prototype for the Cost of Freedom App to help users navigate their state’s voter ID application process. The app was reengineered by a hacker who works for Google at the Voting Information Project (VIP) Hackathon.

To date, I have participated in eight hackathons.

My teams addressed a wide range of issues, including LGBT rights, international election monitoring and crowdfunding. In six of the eight events, my team either won or placed second or third.

A lot of awesome prototypes are developed at hackathons. But to have an impact, the project must be sustained beyond the weekend. Like romance, a prototype without finance doesn’t stand a chance. So the team should include an evangelist who is passionate about the project. Someone who is willing to spend the time and energy it will take to get resources to build out the app. I was chief evangelist for the Cost of Freedom Project and Yo! Philly Votes.

If you build it, they will come. Right? Maybe. You have to market to your target audience. I partnered with national and local nonprofits to engage their members. I also used social networks and mainstream media to raise awareness of the civic apps.

A year later, I’m going back to where it all began — Random Hacks of Kindness, which will be held at Drexel’s new ExCITe Center. I’m, well, excited to give an update on Yo! Philly Votes and perhaps pitch a project.

I’m also excited about how the hackathon platform and collaborative mindset can spark interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). While a lot of serious coding takes place during hackathons, it’s not all work. They’re actually fun. Folks play games and banter back and forth. Truth be told, hackathons are cool. As Will.i.am observed:

Most kids are not dreaming of being programmers, scientists or engineers. The ones that are… are looked at as being geeks or uncool, when in actuality technology is the only thing that is cool today.

Hackathons or hackerspaces can help underrepresented minorities, particularly young black males, imagine a better future. They would be introduced to professionals who can connect STEM literacy to their day-to-day lives and career possibilities. Given the shifting demographics, it is an economic imperative that we inculcate interest in STEM subjects among black and Latino students.

This year, I underwent a professional makeover. In the coming year, I plan to organize hackerspaces, infused with a hip hop beat, to help give STEM a much-needed makeover.

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