For many, the idea of being hacked is scary. However, on Saturday and Sunday, the LAB Miami in Wynwood is inviting “hackers” all over the city to put their technical prowess to a good cause.
The event, Hack for Change: Miami, is part of the National Day of Civic Hacking, where local, state and federal governments are calling on tech-savvy citizens to find innovative solutions to civic problems. This will be achieved by these institutions providing challenges they hope to accomplish and tools such as data sets to work with.
In participation of the event, Miami-Dade County will be providing data from their 311 service requests; these requests relate to things such as varied as broken traffic signals, potholes, stray dogs, and code violations that may indicate the quality of life in certain neighborhoods.
“We hope to come out with visualizations of 311 data which improve the understanding of the relationships between neighborhood issues and other factors, [such as] demographic, environmental, and economic [factors], and also with more tools that will help residents submit problem reports easily using any type of device. In the long run, we are hoping that the community begins to use these data sets more regularly for different apps, which will inevitably lead to more informed and more active engagement in civic life,” says Assia Alexandrova, e-Government Solutions Manager for Miami-Dade County.
In addition, the hackers can solve challenges at the national level. A number of federal agencies such as NASA, the FDA, the Department of Agriculture and the Census Bureau have developed challenges that they hope participants can solve during the hack-a-thon. For example, the Census Bureau has asked participants to use data sets about every neighborhood in the United States to create tools to create applications that makes the information more usable to citizens.
However, one need not be a hacker to participate in the event. Daniel Lafuente, LAB Miami co-founder, says half of the people who have registered for the event have been observers. Observers can watch on the sidelines during the over 36 hours of continuous “hacking” or they can also participate in a “write-a-thon” where they are asked to contribute posts to MiamiWiki.org, a collaborative website where anyone can post about topics related to Miami from famous landmarks to major historical events in the city’s lifetime.
John Bullard, co-founder of the local tech startup Flomio and a participant at Hack for Change: Miami, says that there are not nearly as many tech-oriented events in Miami as he would like and that events like Hack for Change: Miami are crucial to connecting those in the local tech community and sparking innovation at the local level.
“Flomio was birthed out of a startup weekend event two years ago ... had we not attended that event early on, who knows if Flomio even existed. ... The spark that put all of that in motion was that event, so I think it’s critical [to host tech events in Miami].”
While many would not consider Miami to be a major tech-hub in the vein of Silicon Valley, Lafuente sees otherwise. He points to many local tech start ups, seed funding accelerators, and large tech corporations that have come to Miami in recent years. He also points to a statistic that says that FIU has graduated more computer science majors in the past 5 years than any other university in the country. Events like these, he says, will help further increase Miami’s rising tech scene.
“This is one of those type of events that tries to capture the momentum of the tech scene and leverage it for the benefit of the city. I think when more people can benefit from something that was created in this manner, in the manner of a hack-a-thon, it will generate more interest in technology.”