Want to Make a Difference in Your Community? I Know a Group that Needs You!

An image of a war room with chairs around a circular table.

There are many people who want to make a difference in their communities. Unfortunately, there are equally as many reasons why people don’t: lack of time, feeling disconnected from the community, and -- often the biggest barrier -- a feeling that they, as one person, can have little to no impact.

I’m here to tell you that’s simply not true. And I’d like to prove it to you next week as Digital Echidna hosts Code for Canada’s open house, in collaboration with Civic Tech London.

First off, let me assure you that you don’t need to be a super-techy developer to play a role. The only requirement is that you have an interest in civic technology. After that, you’ll find a place. After all, civic technology requires people from all walks of life: average citizens with personal knowledge of challenges, public servants with expertise in civic matters, project managers, designers, user experience practitioners -- there’s a role for you. Trust me.

Code for Canada's open house is going to be held at Oct. 10, 2017 at Digital Echidna’s office at 103 King. St. The open house runs from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. There will be a short presentation, followed by networking and conversation.

So what is civic technology? Let me explain by way of an example.

What is civic tech and why should you attend?

A few years ago in Boston, there was a severe snowstorm that buried all the fire hydrants and created delays for fire fighters. Some civic hackers realized that this was problem and created Adopt-a-Hydrant – GitHub, a way for neighbors to volunteer to shovel out the hydrants on their block.

This is an example of how governments and citizens can work together to solve local issues. For me, that’s the true definition of civic tech -- it’s using technology for “good,” solving challenges that may be faced by the public sector and empowering citizens to help make government more accessible and efficient. That’s a high-level overview -- for a more in-depth understanding of what civic tech is, I invite you to read a blog post from one of my personal heroes in the space, Matt Stempeck.  

Civic Tech events offer a way for people from all walks of life to get together and work collaboratively. To solve public sector problems, we need to build partnerships. This doesn’t mean a bunch of developers in a room building an app, but rather it requires that you talk to the people who are actually facing the issues.

Technology has a lot of potential to solve civic issues. But we should always ask ourselves this question: is this technology going to improve the service or issue we are trying to solve?

Why am I going to be there?

I’ve always loved Civic Tech and have been involved with a local brigade in every city that I’ve lived in. When I was in New York, I was part of BetaNYC; while I was in Boston, I was involved with Code for Boston. Needless to say, I was super excited when Code for Canada launched earlier this year and even more so when Civic Tech London started up.

I’m looking forward to learning more about the City of London and what constituents have to say about their experiences here. I may still be new to this city, but I have a lot to offer when it comes to digital services!

What is Code for Canada?

Code for Canada is a national nonprofit that helps governments and communities build great digital services. They believe the best organizations work in public. That’s why they host regular Open Houses — both online and in-person — where the community can meet their team, learn more about programs and discover ways to get involved in Canada’s growing civic tech movement.

These open houses are a way to connect government with technologist, designers, and problem solvers in the community.

Code for America has shown that the best digital services are created when we bridge the gap between government and the tech sector. I think we have the opportunity to do this with the launch of the CDS - Canadian Digital Service and our local Civic Tech London.

What is Civic Tech London?

Civic tech communities bring together all sorts of people to learn from another and improve their communities. Technologists, designers, policy makers, public servants, and engaged residents all are welcome.

Most civic tech communities have something called a “hack night”. This is an event where people get together and solve problems or share what they’ve been working on. Hack nights are so valuable because you’re putting together a diverse group of people in a room -- usually people that wouldn’t normally work with each other. Mixing people from different expertise empowers people to learn from each other. As we’ve talked about on this very blog, diversity of thought helps to create different outlooks on an issue and creative solutions.

Civic Tech London is our local grassroots group, supported by Code for Canada with resources and expertise. You can check out when our next hack night is happening on our meetup page and join us!

I encourage everyone to attend a Civic Tech London meetup and see how they can contribute to improving their local community. Let’s learn from each other and solve some problems together!

Questions Answered

What is Civic Tech?

Is there a Civic Technology group in London, Ontario?