A Civic Hacker Corp

I've always been told, "If You Don't Vote, You Can't Bitch". This is a statement I've heard from hundreds of American citizens that I've encountered throughout my life, across every region of this great country. While I agree with the intent of this statement, I have to declare that it isn't enough!

Its obvious that being a couch political pundit and voting for your favorite, corporate owned politician isn't enough anymore. In the age of the Internet, open data and open APIs we need politicking to be a group sport.  Something everyone lends a hand in.

So how do we do this?

As I'm working through my thoughts on this subject, I would like propose an idea for a Civic Hacker Corp. It would be an NGO, that has government support, but provide a framework to hang meaningful government actions and expertise on.

In its simplest form, I envision the Civic Hacker Corp to be about:

  • Tasks - Available tasks that need to be accomplished. Tasks would always be bite site chunks that wouldn't take weeks or months to accomplish, but could be done within 5-40 hours of work. Examples might be processing data, cleaning it up, normalizing, verification, pulling data from PDFs, OCR work, etc.  Tasks would be submitted by government organizations, in hopes of soliciting civic execution
  • Hackers - Citizens, not necessarily developers, that could step up for Civic Hacker Corp duty. They could donate as little, or as much time as they like to accomplish tasks that match their skills.  Citizen hackers would bring necessary private sector talent to the table in an approach that is similar to Amazon Web Services, Mechanical Turk
  • Certification & Badging - Using a system like Mozilla Open Badges, the Civic Hacker Corp could certify the execution of tasks by hackers and issue badges for the successful that reflect work done for different sectors of government, types of work, scopes of work or any other benchmarks deemed suitable.  Each certification would links to resulting data, content or code

The objective the Civic iHacker Corp would be to get government organizations from all levels to formulate and publish tasks, then incentivize citizen hackers to accomplish these tasks, and potentially move our country forward in new, and collaborative ways.

I think we currently see some of this in action, with programs like Code for America, Challenge.gov and the Presidential Innovation Fellows program. These are all an excellent start, but I think we need a single organization that can coordinate the tasks, hackers and certification in a permanent, widespread way. A group that can represent city, state or federal government appropriately, and provide a credible system for empowering citizen hackers to tackle meaningful open government tasks, then certify and reward hackers.

All work accomplished via the Civic Hacker Corp would be published to common platforms like Github, Dropbox, AWS, etc., while requiring the usage of open formats, common standards and require open licensing--making sure every aspect is reusable beyond the single task.

I know, this is a pretty grand vision. But I think it is doable and someday we could say, "if you didn't help crunch the data on White House Budget, and possess a certified badge showing you did…then you can't bitch"!!