Hacking For The Greater Good: Miami Coders Are Getting Schooled In Politics

Written by Carol Thomson

A group of computer developers and designers are gearing up for three months of training in preparation for a nationally observed day of innovation. But the team at Code for Miami isn’t brushing up on their computer programming skills.

Code for Miami is inviting the public to a lecture series about how to engage in local politics. The Miami Civic Series is scheduled to start Monday, July 24 at the Cambridge Innovation Center — a launch pad for some of the Miami’s most promising startups.

The series will tackle topics such as the creation of laws, ways that citizens can interact with elected officials, Miami’s founding, history and constitution.

Anyone who wishes to improve Miami is welcome to attend and mingle with members of the Code for Miami team, many of whom call themselves “civic hackers.”

What exactly is a civic hacker and what does a civic hacker do? Civic hackers are designers, developers, data scientists, urbanists and community organizers who contribute their talents toward improving the way the community interacts with local government by advocating for open data and using it to create apps and shared resources.

Event organizer Danielle Ungermann acknowledges that the term “hacker” is often perceived as someone who is looking to do harm.

Code for Miami seeks to do the opposite. With projects such as the Miami Graph, which is a visual representation of Miami-Dade County’s 100-page budget, Code for Miami is constantly trying to bridge the gap between local governments and the people they serve.

“You’re seeing a need and filling it,” Ungermann said. “Hack is just to alter something. Civic is doing it for the greater good.”

To continue to make improvements, Ungermann felt it was important to ensure that the Code for Miami team had a wealth of knowledge. So she made her own hack: The Miami Civic Series. Her hope is that it will inspire civic engagement, even for those who have no computer skills.

“The civic series is an answer not only to Code for Miami but to the larger public in general for people who want to make a difference (by) informing citizens and making them stronger stakeholders in their community,” Ungermann said.

The Miami Civic Series will open with a talk by guest speaker Maggie Fernandez, a former member of Miami-Dade County government and president of a socially-conscious consulting group called Sustainable Miami.

The six-part series will lead up to National Day of Civic Hacking on Sept. 23. Last year, groups across the United States teamed up with Code for America to create mobile apps that improve the application process for food stamps, affordable housing, victim compensation and business licenses. Code for America is a national network alliance of community organizers, developers, and designers putting tech to work in service of local communities.

This year National Day of Civic Hacking will bring new challenges. But Ungermann thinks the Miami Civic Series will create a community ready to put its new knowledge to the test.

“It’s our hope that with this series and National Day of Civic Hacking that we can activate attendees to inspire those around them to come up with social good solutions to community problems,” Ungermann said. “Anyone can be a part of change. Anyone can make a difference.”

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