Bite-sized projects/activities at hack nights?

I’m wondering if you’re ever in a lull between projects, a planned presenter unexpectedly cancels, or don’t have any tutorials ready: do you have any projects or activities that you have in your back pocket, so to speak, that you can break out and have your attendees do with minimal onboarding and get started?

These types of projects/activities may not be valuable for long systemic change but they have a short onboarding process so that a new attendee can begin contributing within 30 minutes of arriving and walk away that night with a contribution that they did something, will learn something about their government and the place around them.

Some ideas that we’ve done in Cleveland:
Editing OpenStreetMap - a free, minimally restricted global public map (Think google maps but with licensing not unlike wikipedia). Users can add local knowledge (locations of public businesses, government buildings, parks, sidewalks, roads, and more) that can be then used for data analysis, navigation, or to make your own maps. :slight_smile: I recommend having at least one experienced OSM mapper on hand to guide new editors and ensure your contributors are done with best practices.

If you have a compatible source of data available (from your city’s open data repository - this is important to make sure it’s compatible with OSM’s license) and some geo saavy folks on your team, you could also even complete an import (an import is NOT something done in one night but
an import can be worked on as a bite-sized task during the ).

  • Although this can be rote, it can have a clear impact if the data is used later on. Campaign finance contributions in my county
    are OCR’ed PDFs which can’t be easily searched or analyzed for trends, calculations.
    We’ve using Tabula to extract the tables and then manually review the data entries and passed them along to local journalists.
  • Updating your brigade’s website

Any other idea for activities and projects?


I’ve long wished we could have a nationally-shared set of starter projects with robust self-serve materials that serve a couple goals:

  1. brigade organizers can offer them to newcomers without investing a lot of energy in people that haven’t proven persistence and a will to roll up their sleeves yet
  2. someone showing up at a hack night with a laptop can get started on something immediately on their own
  3. they help organizers see where a person is
  4. each project offers both a chance to learn/sharpen a technical skill while being exposed to the civic hacking space
  5. each would offer some degree of personalization on a subject but not technical level, so rather than just being busy work each has the potential to be a warm up to a real project the person could keep building on in their own direction after they get to
  6. make more recurring and concrete the sorts of help a first timer could need, so more brigade members can be marshalled to jump in and help out

A couple such projects I’ve pondered already:

  1. find a parsable data source (e.g. CSV) that a local entity publishes, load it into a queryable database, and make it searchable/filterable
  2. identify some set of community resources that are not comprehensively listed somewhere, design a spreadsheet and start researching/compiling
  3. find a list of geographic features, make explorable on an interactive map
  4. find a set of data that’s published online but not downloadable and build a scraper
  5. make a list of nonprofits working on a particular issue, map out how they fit together in the ecosystem, and theorize where tools might help them collectively or individually
  6. pick a process people need to go through in the city, map it out like a journey map or civic teardown

Code for Baltimore had a cool effort in this space a couple years ago:


We have one that was based on Code for Pittsburgh’s CityTwitter:

I recently had some volunteers interested in creating more of these bite-size projects to use in conjunction with our “Intro to Git/GitHub” workshop, so I’m hoping we have more in a few months!

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Contributing to the Civic technology page on Wikipedia, by reading through it and finding ways to improve the text, it will be an introduction to the field; and by finding how it can be updated and improved, the web searches might lead to something inspiring:

Oh hey. We were also tackling this in Denver as we had a couple big, long-term, complicated projects that weren’t very accessible and noticed our new members just weren’t coming back because they weren’t engaged.

I happened across a page on the old Code for DC website when doing other research that had starter project ideas and we co-opted a few, made them local, and expanded upon them. It’s still early, but it feels promising. Some of our folks already found some Bear/Human conflict data and mapped it out and linked it to a tech initiative at the State of Colorado for a reporting app for wildlife managers that never got off the ground because of lack of resources!

Anyways. Here’s our efforts. Can’t wait to add some of the ideas in this thread too, y’all have so many good ones!

Code for Denver starter projects

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