Why We Should All Be Civic Hacking

Why We Should All Be Civic Hacking

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This post by Sheba Najmi was first published on the OPEN Islamabad blog.

Think about your last time stuck in traffic — or at NADRA getting your National ID Card renewed… Ever had to go to the police station? Visited a ghost government school? What about spending untold hours with no electricity thanks to load-shedding? No one wants to spend countless hours in traffic or wait in that interminable CNG line. Or pretty much have anything to do with public services, if they can help it. What if interacting with public services wasn’t so painful? What if every trip was a positive, easy experience?

Civic Hacking

Enter the world of civic hacking. The good kind of hacking. It’s the empowerment of citizens to create solutions themselves. It goes hand-in-hand with Government 2.0, which is the notion of true participatory government, where citizens and government collaborate to make their cities better for everyone and help improve government.

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As citizens, our relationship with government tends to be transactional at best  — vending machine style. As Tim O’Reilly explains, we put our taxes in (some do, at any rate), and we expect services out. “And when we don’t get what we expect, our ‘participation’ is limited to protest — essentially, ‘shaking’ the vending machine.” The gap of mistrust between citizens and their government keeps widening as the rest of society progresses and our expectations of the ability of public services to keep up fall further behind. But in reality, we can do much more than complain: we can use our skills to create solutions.

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Civic hacking is the act of fixing civic problems. Civic hacking doesn’t require technical expertise — it’s just as much about contributing code to an open source civic app as it is about designing street facilities or conducting a workshop with city officials to discuss how new policy could improve a neighborhood. Civic hacking is simply hands-on action by citizens to produce civic innovation, namely improvements in the lives of citizens or in government processes that function in society.

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Technology has helped, for sure. Thanks to modern Internet technologies, as citizens, we are finding ourselves more empowered than ever before. Instead of complaining helplessly, we can connect with other citizens to crowdsource information, and we can reuse and adapt open source solutions from other contexts to address our civic needs without having to start from scratch.

A Civic Innovation Platform

Code for Pakistan is a civic innovation platform made up of a passionate community of talented professionals and students in Pakistan and the US, driven by a strong belief in civic innovation and social impact that can move Pakistan forward in measurable and meaningful ways. While Code for Pakistan has its roots engrained in the global Code for All community, this is actually a fairly new concept, both globally and in Pakistan.

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Your Community

In Pakistan, the professional community is just starting to get involved with creating civic solutions. Code for Pakistan’s 4 civic hackathons have been held with the support and partnership of some wonderful Pakistani organizations, including OPEN Islamabad, the KP Government, T2F, P@SHA, Pring, Peshawar 2.0, Technology for the People Initiative, and several others. Many individuals contribute their time and skills as hackers or mentors in our Civic Innovation Labs to help accelerate civic projects. Many working professionals step up to act as part-time volunteer leads for our programs. And students and professionals alike spend 6 months solving civic problems in our KP Civic Innovation Fellowship Program (which we run in partnership with the KP IT Board and World Bank). We have also seen some brave new entrepreneurs quit their jobs to focus full-time on societal solutions that started as weekend projects at our hackathons, and many others mentor them to success. It takes a village, all of us, to make civic innovation happen.

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For the entrepreneurs out there, you can leverage your itch for creating impact towards creating the kind of city and civic solutions you wished you had in your daily lives. There is tremendous potential in the professional community. Whether you’re a doctor, teacher, lawyer, artist, technologist, marketer, or entrepreneur, you have so much skill and knowledge to contribute  society.

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Be it using your design skills to create Savaree, Pakistan’s first ridesharing solution, your sales chops to get BloodforLife, a blood donor directory, adopted by government hospitals, your people management skills to guide our student interns, or your domain knowledge to help identify strong partner organizations to sustain a women’s counseling application, you can always contribute some of your attention towards creating the kind of society you want to live in.

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We need all community members — individuals and organizations — to step up to enable this nascent ecosystem. We’re so grateful that we have partners like OPEN Islamabad who understand that the entire community needs to come together to create healthier cities and environments.

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Our Islamabad Civic Hackathon in February 2015 would not have been possible without OPEN Islamabad joining hands to become a true partner and provide full-on support and help arranging the logistics.  We have since launched the Islamabad Civic Innovation Lab in collaboration with OPEN Islamabad with a fantastic team of volunteer leads (and with much support from LMKR). In the 3 months since its inception, the Lab has already launched a Women & Tech Talks seminar, a student civic internship, and is accelerating several civic projects. I’ve seen that every organization, every movement, every change, every bit of impact is simply made up of individuals proactively putting in their time and effort. That’s how it comes about.

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Why did I start Code for Pakistan? Having learned so much as a Code for America Fellow, it was obvious to me that I could either use my skills to be part of the solution or give up any credibility or right to complain. I wanted to be part of the solution so I opted for the former — as I hope you will. Join us in creating the kinds of cities you want to live in.

Thanks to Ali Khan for contributing to this post.

Ali Khan
Ali Khan
Program Head @ Code for Pakistan