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Civic Group Hopes For More Involvement Through Hackathon

By Aaron Kraut

Thursday - 2/6/2014, 3:05pm  ET

Great Montgomery County Hackathon, via Montgomery County Civic FedA group of some of the most civic-minded folks in Montgomery County are coming to Bethesda this weekend to develop a Ride On bus app, service for making public information requests and database of Maryland lobbying activities.

The Montgomery County Civic Federation, Montgomery County Taxpayers League and the Parents’ Coalition of Montgomery County together with a grant from the nonprofit Sunlight Foundation will put on the two-day “Great Montgomery Hackathon” at the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center (4805 Edgemoor Lane).

“One of the goals is to get people interested in civic activism to work with the IT programmers. This seemed like a good way to get those two groups of people together,” said Civic Fed member and organizer Paula Bienenfeld. “We’ll see how far we get by Sunday afternoon and hopefully set up something more regular out of it.”

The free event is open to civic activists, citizens, software developers and anyone else interested.

From 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday, those people will work together to create four already outlined software programs and any more that come up:

  • Transit – Help us build a multilingual mobile web app that will help people find Ride On bus stops as quickly and easily as possible.
  • Demographics – Create a tool to help people location important areas and locations on a map and find out the demographic makeup of the area using data from the US Census Bureau.
  • Public Information – Start a service that will help people submit Maryland Public Information Act (MPIA) requests and track the responses, opening up them up to the public.
  • Follow the Money – Help create a usable, easily searchable database from State of Maryland pdf files on lobbying activities.

The idea of a hackathon isn’t new, not even in Montgomery County, where last year officials introduced the concept with a one-day event in Rockville. County officials hope to expand on that program with another hackathon soon.

This weekend’s event serves another purpose. Bienenfeld said her impression of civic participation in the county is that it’s isolated to specific issues in each community.

She’s hoping the hackathon is a way to foster sustainable interest on a county level. The Civic Fed is an umbrella group of a number of neighborhood and local civic associations.

“I know this is not just in Montgomery County, this issue of sustainment,” Bienenfeld said. “How do you keep people interested in being active, involved past their particular issue? Hopefully, this is a way for people to get together and see what’s going on in other parts of the county.”

Those who have little or no knowledge of computer coding shouldn’t feel left out, Bienenfeld said. There will be plenty of brainstorming and data entry work to be done.

Image via Montgomery County Civic Federation