Merlene Davis: Tech experts help the civic-minded make a better Lexington

Herald-Leader columnistMay 29, 2013 

  • If you go

    What: National Day of Civic Hacking in Lexington

    When: 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. June 1 and 2.

    Cost: Free with breakfast and lunch provided

    Where: The Plantory, 560 East Third St.

    To register: Visit https://hack4lex.eventbrite.com.

In Lexington and throughout the nation this weekend, a few worlds will collide. Instead of a disaster, the result could be a better community.

Technologists and non-profit groups, civic-minded individuals and bureaucrats are invited to the National Day of Civic Hacking where, hopefully, they can meld their skills and expertise to solve problems.

"It is a new way of civic engagement and volunteerism," said Chase Southard, a software developer who is coordinating the free event. "There are non-profits that provide great things for the community and we can help solve their challenges."

This weekend will be a prime opportunity for the two groups — those working to alleviate social problems who are intimidated by technology and techies who are unaware of social issues — to work together to find ways to make public data and code more user-friendly in Lexington, as well as the state and nation.

"We also need those people who are creative or artistic or well-organized to help be a part of a group," Southard said, "or lead a discussion, or take notes or find information or just be a sounding board."

According to the website for the national event, this weekend's civic hacking "will provide citizens an opportunity to do what is most quintessentially American: roll up our sleeves, get involved and work together to improve our society."

Each of the nearly 100 cities participating will come up with plans that suit the needs of its region. The grassroots effort in Lexington is being led by tech-savvy groups such as OpenLexington and the Collexion Hackerspace, as well as the local government and the University of Kentucky.

Southard helped found OpenLexington in 2010 to make local government data more accessible by machines and humans, he said.

One project OpenLexington completed was making council district maps available to everyone without fees or legal limitations.

"Now you can get that information and use it for your particular project," he said.

Also, LexTran is working on a way for riders to determine when a bus is scheduled by using a text-capable cell phone, Southard said.

"It's about helping people make an impact," he said. "It may be small, it may be narrow, but over time it can evolve into a much more interesting conversation."

Southard got the idea for OpenLexington from Code for American, a non-profit organization founded in 2009 in San Francisco that connects individuals in the web industry with cities in need of a solution to technology challenges.

The two-day hacking event starts at 9 a.m. Saturday at The Plantory, 560 East Third St. It features a discussion of problems and issues and aspects of Lexington that could be made better. Then the parties collaborate on solutions and ideas.

On Sunday, the groups look at the data and work to replicate it elsewhere.

"At the end of the weekend, on Sunday afternoon, we will evaluate where we are," Southard said. "How do we carry forward? Where are the roadblocks?"

Southard wants not only those who are computer savvy to come, but also those who don't have a clue, like me. He believes both groups have a stake in Lexington and can contribute.

"Technology can't solve every problem but it is worth having the conversation," he said.

He cautioned that the event is not set up as a meet and greet for consultant services. There is no charge for any services that may develop from the event.

And you don't have to attend both days, all day. Come, listen and add your ideas.

"We just want to make this place better," he said.

To register, visit https://hack4lex.eventbrite.com.


IF YOU GO

What: National Day of Civic Hacking in Lexington

When: 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. June 1 and 2.

Cost: Free with breakfast and lunch provided

Where: The Plantory, 560 East Third St.

To register: Visit https://hack4lex.eventbrite.com.

Merlene Davis: (859) 231-3218. Email: mdavis1@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @reportmerle. Blog: merlenedavis.bloginky.com.

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