Jun 232013
 
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Gathering in the cool TECH Fort Worth foyer…

After months of exploring civic hacking possibilities for the Dallas-Fort Worth area, a brainstorming session finally came together early this month.  Held at TECH Fort Worth on a breezy Saturday, the event sought to identify challenges and develop plans for future events that bring needful municipalities and contribution-minded citizens to the same table.

We decided to take a traditional brainstorming approach, throwing ideas on the board and carefully guiding them toward a refined, useful set of actionable items.  TECH Fort Worth is the right facility for it!  But first, I shared a presentation on the subject.  I’m sure I violated some unspoken rule by launching a Prezi from a PowerPoint deck, but at least it worked!

Instead of the traditional lecture presentation style, I prefer a more inclusive, audience-friendly approach.  It can take a little longer to get through, but I find the attendees come away more informed and engaged.  This technique also better sets the stage for true brainstorming afterward.

We were extremely fortunate to have Pete Anderson and Brian Chatman from the city of Fort Worth and Karen Siddall of Irving Public Works.  The strongest civic hacking events enjoy a high degree of municipal involvement, as demonstrated by Palo Alto seeing around 5000 participants in their Hack for Change event this year.

It’s very doubtful DFW will see such numbers in 2014, but we feel a year’s worth of planning and preparation will lead to a successful event for us.  We are targeting a participant level of 75 but it could go even higher.  It comes down to the support we get!

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What’s a meetup without pizza? Pizza Hut was fast and courteous, and the food was great.

Discussion continued over lunch, although we lost Cone Johnson and George Battle III beforehand.  They had a good reason to leave, though: as it turned out, small Hack for Change events sprang up in south Dallas and Red Oak, and the two of them went to check on progress at both.  Even though the core goal of this committee is to put together a metro-scale event for 2014, smaller surrounding events are of course welcome and we will support them any way we can.

Oh, and thanks to the Microsoft Tech Affiliate program for buying the meal!

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Jorge Varela moderates. So glad to have him aboard!

We were every fortunate to gain the participation of Jorge Varela, assistant director of TECH Fort Worth.  Jorge was invaluable in leading the discussion from the storming to forming portion and development of specific action items.

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Discussion results

As brainstorming discussions do, this one wandered over vast territory before reaching critical paths.  I had originally proposed CentrePort business park as the ideal general location, and was pleasantly surprised to see our talk end up there.  As I blogged previously, it really is a great spot; we just need to identify a site host.  We narrowed top three candidates down to:

  1. New KXAS Studios
  2. AT&T
  3. American Airlines

I drove out there after the session to reacquaint myself with the property.  I could not find the AT&T site; even an internet search was no help, which I found to be very odd.  I’ll have to do a little more digging to find it.  They would make an ideal partner for this sort of event… however, I got nowhere with them this year so I’m not very optimistic for next year.

The under-construction KXAS news studio was number one on our list so I made sure to check it out.  The building looks nice, but smaller than I expected.  KXAS would be a perfect partner for the event, but I’m not sure their facility will work as an event site.  We’ll see.

The American Airlines campus is huge, and given their high level of community involvement and social media awareness I believe they would be able to support us.  We will definitely pursue them.

There are other possibilities to explore as well.  Bottom line, CentrePort is the place to hold a DFW event.  New bus lines will be added to CentrePort Station soon, which just increases its attractiveness for our planned use.

Wrap-up

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Backpack winner Raj Daniels

As a thank-you for participation in the brainstorming session, I conducted a random drawing among participants for a sharp Nokia DVLUP-branded Wenger backpack.  Karen Siddall was kind enough to bring various useful items promoting water conservation.

For future communications purposes, we have a Google group set up, and have taken out the domain DataLibreDFW.org.  Nothing on the site yet, but that’s coming!  We’re going to be holding periodic meetups, and welcome anyone wanting to attend.  Follow this blog and the Twitter account MakeDFW for future developments.

Amidst all the successes, there remain some challenges.  I was disappointed that the following cities neglected to respond to requests for involvement: Keller, Southlake, Grapevine and Coppell.  It’s critical that between now and next year we get every local municipality to understand the huge benefits of civic hacking [note: the linked article is a must read for team members!].  Of course, we can pull an event off with backing by Fort Worth and Irving, but we don’t want to leave anyone out!

I want to encourage anyone reading this to get involved in civic hacking for your locality, or even on a larger scale.  For North America, start with the Hack for Change organization, which puts an incredibly big effort behind the activity in general and specifically the National Day of Civic Hacking events.  Here in DFW we’re going to need a lot of help making this happen here.  The growing Maker community stands ready.  If you’re interested, contact me to see how you can contribute, or just join the Data Libre DFW Google group.  I guarantee you there’s a way you can help!

  • Follow-up: I’m disappointed to announce that the plans discussed in this article fell through for 2014. Our little group is still having difficulty reaching critical mass for a DFW-wide event, and even a small Fort Worth event failed to come together. Just not enough people willing/able to help make it happen.

    This area has been quite a challenge for civic hacking in general. If organizers can bring social activists together with eager developers (of any kind), that’s most of the battle. Maybe next year…

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