Call to Hack, Civically

Next, weekend (Sat., Sept. 8, all day), Code for America is sponsoring a Hack-a-Thon, their second this year.

As Alan Williams explains:

Civic hackathons are about making things happen. At civic hackathons, passionate people of all kinds come together to solve shared problems. You don’t need to be a coder, you just need to care. They help communities like Austin build strong ties between talented designers and developers and the countless organizations and individuals that work daily to make the city a better place. The diverse experiences, expertise, and ingenuity of residents can help shape what gets built at civic hackathons, and improve their resonance and relevance with citizens at large.

Free signup is here:

I've got a project I'm going to propose, and I hope you'll consider coming to hack on it.

Problem Statement: Currently, the City of Austin takes required campaign finance and lobbyist reports as paper forms (or PDF versions of the forms). The forms are posted online but are not easily searchable. In April, the City Council passed a resolution to put this information online in a searchable database. It's actually a more complicated process than anybody envisioned, and initial staff estimates have come back with about $800K cost and about a year development, to deploy a solution based on proprietary technology. This is an opportunity for civic-minded hackers to accelerate the schedule and reduce the costs.

The goal I propose for the hack-a-thon is a proof-of-concept prototype, that would allow a person to batch load the finance information for a report, have the data validated, and then stored in some easily managed way (may be a database, or may just be a JSON blob). Campaigns already keep much of this information in a spreadsheet, so the approach I'm considering is to give them a template, have them fill it out, and then upload the file for processing.

I'm currently doing analysis, and starting to generate design documents here:

I'm anticipating that this particular project will be more data intensive than web intensive. If this sounds like a project you'd be interested in working on, I hope you'll come by. Or, you may be interested in one of the many other projects that may be proposed. In any event, I hope you'll come by Saturday and join in the hacking.