(Photo by Julie Zeglen)
Code for Philly celebrated five years of meetups, project-based hackathons and national conferences this past December in an extremely Code for Philly way: by convening the best and brightest of local civic tech and making them use their brains.
The volunteer-led group was launched in Fall 2012 as a bootstrapped initiative from a handful of technologists who saw a need for a more transparent, user-focused city government, and soon enough, its hacking nights evolved into a larger conversation about how citizens can improve government with the help of data and community.
It’s since grown dramatically, from the types of folks who contribute directly to projects — data scientists, journalists and government employees themselves — to the types of organizations that support its work.
But civic tech in Philly is more than Code for Philly, as we’ve explored before.
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“There’s such a dedication to community and civics baked into the DNA of Philadelphia that sets us up for success in the way not every place is,” said Executive Director Dawn McDougall about the group.
The fifth birthday bash, hosted at coworking space Pipeline Philly and presented by AT&T, included such esteemed guests as realLIST honorees Robert Cheetham, Michelle Lee and Stacey Mosley; City Hall staffers Jane Slusser and Christine Derenick-Lopez; newly minted Controller Rebecca Rhynhart; Congressional candidate Nina Ahmad; and social entrepreneurship cheerleaders Cory Donovan and Yasmine Mustafa.
Catch the recap video by REC Philly below. It includes this simple explanation of why everyone in the room does what they do, from GIS mapping firm Azavea founder Cheetham: “Civic technology is a way for citizens to engage in how they’re governed and how their community is operated.”
Attendees also crowdsourced a timeline of local civic tech history, as they do. Here’s what they came up with:
The early years
- 2003 — The City of Philadelphia becomes the first to release its GIS data
- 2005 — Wireless Philadelphia, an effort to create a low-cost, citywide network of Wi-Fi hotspots, is developed but not launched
- 2008 — Mayor Michael Nutter’s branding transition team labels Philadelphia an “Open Source City”
- May 2008 — iSEPTA launches to allow smartphone users to access SEPTA schedules
- December 2008 — Information and reporting hotline Philly 311 is introduced
- February 2009 — Technical.ly Philly launches to cover the city’s burgeoning tech scene
- May 2009 — Chief Information Officer Allan Franke announces Digital Philadelphia, a $100 million investment in civic technology
- February — Philly applies to be a Code for America city
- Fall — The city’s network of free Wi-Fi hotspots launches as KEYSPOT
- February — Code for America’s first cohort of Philly fellows, including realLIST honorees Aaron Ogle and Mjumbe Poe, start their work; one-day hackathon Philly Data Camp is cohosted by those fellows and Azavea
- April — OpenDataPhilly.com, a community-supported transparency tool, launches thanks to collaboration between Azavea, the Temple University Center for Public Interest Journalism and the City of Philadelphia
- May — Open Data Liberator, which allows users to search city property records by owner name, launches
- June — Drexel University hosts Philly’s first iteration of the national Random Hacks of Kindness events
- August — Open source DistrictBuilder software is used to run a public competition called Fix Philly Districts to draw better City Council district boundaries; event series OpenAccessPHL is founded by Jeff Friedman and Paul Wright to convene civic leaders around discussions about open data, community participation, access and inclusion, and civic tech growth
- September — OpenDataRace challenges Philadelphians to encourage the city to release data sets
- October — Apps for SEPTA is Philly’s first hackathon produced with municipal partners
- February — The second cohort Code for Philly fellows, which includes realLIST honoree Michelle Lee, begins its work
- April — Mayor Nutter signs an executive order establishing open data policy
- August — Mark Headd becomes the City of Philadelphia’s first-ever chief data officer
- September — Philly 311’s mobile app launches
- October — Code for Philly is founded; Knight Foundation invests $800,000 in local civic engagement tools; the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics opens and aims to be a public-private incubator for technological problem-solving
- November — Social enterprise incubator FastFWD launches
- December — The Philadelphia Public Interest Information Network is renamed AxisPhilly to manage OpenDataPhilly.org
- January — Mobile civic engagement product Textizen spins out of the Code for America fellowship and is awarded $350,000 in seed funding; PHLCrimeMapper is launched by Office of Innovation and Technology staffer Dave Walk using recently opened city crime data
- February — greenSTEMnetwork, which allows Philly public school students to tend to their rain gardens, is built at TechCamp and later leveraged for educational programs led by the Philadelphia Water Department
- October — The City of Philadelphia gets on software development platform Github
- November — Azavea’s crime predicting software HunchLab, developed with $800,000 in federal grants, is set to be used by Philadelphia Police
- August — The city opens its Innovation Lab, a coworking space for city employees in the Municipal Services Building
- February — Philly Ward Leaders launches and is adopted by Committee of Seventy
- July — Textizen exits to national govtech firm GovDelivery
- December — City Council approves a 15-year franchise agreement with Comcast
- April — The City of Philadelphia releases the highly sought data set of city employees’ salaries
- May — The city forms its Office of Open Data and Digital Transformation
- February — The city launches GovLabPHL, “a multi-agency team led by the Mayor’s Policy Office focused on developing innovative and evidence-based practice in city government”
- May — OpenDataRace is relaunched as OpenDataVote; the City of Philadelphia wins a $338,000 Knight Cities Challenge grant to launch its PHL Participatory Design Lab
- July — Knight Foundation partners with Niantic to set up Pokémon Go stops at the Free Library
- October — Philly hosts the first Code for America Brigade Congress to bring together brigades from across the county
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