At Whitepages Pro, we pledge to use our “data for good” so it seemed natural for me to attend DiscoTech – Code for Seattle’s National Day of Civic Hacking. Thousands of participants from over 106 different communities came together on Saturday, June 6th to create apps and services that used open source public data to address problems facing their municipalities. DiscoTech was designed to harness the skills provided by Seattle’s technology sector to improve quality of life and bolster civic engagement. But, why should we be interested in civic tech?
How Can We Leverage the Best of Technology to Build Better Communities?
Closing the technology gap is what Code for America and its brigades aim to tackle. “Government in general has lagged. A lot has to do with what we the people have insisted government be. We’ve asked government to be very careful with how it spends our money, to not take risks, to check a lot of boxes, and to make decisions for a very long time frame…It’s not a good fit with how technology is built and bought in 2015,” said Jennifer Pahlka, founder of Code America in an interview with phys.org. Resource limitations and bureaucratic processes has lead municipalities to utilize talent and innovation from outside of their organizations in order to leverage the necessary agility to create accessible, functional, and geographically targeted products.
Which raises the question, how can we use Seattle’s tech boom as an asset to create an equitable and integrated city? At DiscoTech the projects were varied, ranging from the largest directory of US citizens killed by police officers, to city council meeting chatrooms, to What’s My Wage, which helps hourly workers bypass the complex $15 minimum wage phase-in matrix with a series of questions to determine their base pay. My favorite project was, Hey Duwamish!, a cleanup monitoring and reporting tool for residents surrounding the Lower Duwamish Waterway Superfund site in South Seattle. It’s inspiring to see the full list of projects taken on by unpaid volunteers in an effort to increase transparency in government processes, address community needs, and advance our localities into the 21st century.
Bridging the Gap Between the Corporate World and Civic Engagement
Critics say that while our growing technology sector is largely responsible for Seattle’s economic boom, it has resulted in gentrification, greater economic stratification, and the soulless redevelopment of historic neighborhoods. “The tech community can do more, turning this conversation on its head by proactively identifying and supporting communit[ies],” said Mark Peterson in GeekWire. In order to revise the narrative that tech companies are unengaged in civic culture we are honored to invest time and energy into supporting grassroots technology projects that are driving positive change in our backyard. At Whitepages Pro, we are committed to supporting not only the mainstream software development community but developers that truly allow us the opportunity to use our data for good.