Drink Tank: Lexington and the new Town Hall
Don't get us wrong, we're crazy about Chicago, but on June 5 we decided it was time for a change of scenery. We drove 735 miles to Lexington, Kentucky, to partner with the fine folks who work with OpenLexington and the city's open data to help bring a fresh perspective to this year's National Day of Civic Hacking (#hackforhange).
Wait? What is this National Day of Civic Hacking?
Ah, good question. National Day of Civic Hacking is organized by Code for America and happens nationwide in June. It was created so that developers, designers, government employees, organizers, and anyone with a passion for her community can collaborate to build useful tools to improve it.
This year we partnered with Erik Schwartz, Mike Dillion, and Chase Southard to shake things up in Lexington. Turns out that not only do these guys know how to code and mobilize the developer community for civic good, they also know a thing or two about moving chairs and opening beer bottles. As luck would have it, we turned out to be the Dream Team of Collaboration.
To kick off this partnership we first hopped on a phone call to understand their current process and challenges. Specifically, these guys wondered:
1) How might we get non-technical people involved and make them feel welcome?
2) How might we use this event to maintain the momentum for civic good in Lexington?
The Drink Tank Community Accelerator
We started with the users, not the code. Remember the healthcare.gov debacle? It's hard to forget. The policy was considered a failure because the website didn't work: Users around the country clamored to signup on the new site but were unable to signup for health insurance. Increasingly, policy and the technology that powers it are interchangeable. For technology (or government) to work it needs to be designed with the user in mind.
We asked questions. We themed this event around the idea of connecting citizens to local government resources. We started the day by asking participants to think of a question they have for local Lexington government that they don't know how to answer. We upvoted the ideas and questions as a group, and broke into teams to get to work.
"In contrast to last year where we let people divide up in to prescribed groups with predetermined focus areas. We spent the morning exploring questions/issues/ideas we'd liked answered. After voting for the best 4 ideas, we devoted our afternoon to working on them. A number of participants expressed their pleasure about the format this year." – Chase Southard
We included research as part of the solution design. We encouraged event organizers to invite subject-matter experts from social workers, to educators, to community organizers. Teams spent time talking to users, researching existing solutions, and mapping pain points and user journeys.