A government that promotes transparency as well as encourages participation from its citizens is one that allows for the development of innovative solutions to civic issues.
To promote transparency and participation in Hoosier governance, seven individuals with diverse backgrounds came together in February of 2015 to form a civic innovation group, and the Open Indy Brigade was born. Open Indy Brigade is the city’s only advocacy hub for citizens who are passionate about using public data to create data-driven, twenty-first century government.
While the Open Indy Brigade has only been working towards civic innovation since 2015, the modern data movement began with the opening of federal data in 2009 under the Obama administration. The position of Federal Chief Information Officer was created and federal data covering a treasure trove of topics such as public safety, finance, climate, education, and more became available on data.gov.
Data.gov was designed to provide raw data with tools and resources that allow citizens to research, create innovative applications, and promote the design of data visualizations. An inspired group of technology and design professionals founded Code for America to address the gap between the public and private sectors in their use of technology. Code for America, which has grown into a national network of civic innovators, created a platform for “civic hacking” through “Brigades” like Open Indy Brigade all around the country who meet regularly to encourage the use of technology, design, and open data in their local governments.
Open Indy Brigade is a Code for America affiliate, participating heavily in the annual Indy Civic Hack in partnership with the Indy Chamber. Matt Kirby, Senior Consultant at KSM Consulting, and member of the Open Indy Brigade organized the first Indy Civic Hack in 2014.
“It was an eye opening experience. It encouraged the Indy tech community to engage folks at the city and state level to start to educate citizens on what open data was,” said Kirby. “Fast forward to 2016, and the Open Indy Brigade is essential in connecting the winning hackers with people and companies that can help them make their ideas a reality.”
Concerning the Open Indy Brigade’s post-hack efforts, Kirby says, “There are really two components to it. The challenge with the college students who participate is that they aren’t equipped to continue that process after the hack. Their ideas are half baked but we can help to move them forward. And the challenge with state government is that it is not well-equipped to engage a startup like one that comes out of a hackathon in the procurement process. We work with these agencies to improve how they can work with non-traditional vendors.”
Open Indy Brigade’s goal is to continue the work to improve the community and while they speak heavily to the importance of civic hackathons, moving forward they want to work to involve more members of the community. Their big push to accomplish this is the Indy Idea Hub, an extended collaborative hackathon that will allow volunteer project teams to identify, develop, and pitch civic technology solutions over a three month period. By removing the time constraints and competitive environment of a traditional hackathon, the Indy Idea Hub will enable larger, more diverse teams to work in concert and deliver an end product more likely to achieve implementation.
The Indy Idea Hub is currently accepting submissions for projects and the top three concepts will be announced at their meetup on August 11, at the new downtown Indianapolis Speak Easy.
Open Indy Brigade believes that a connection between technology, government and community will result in better public accountability, trust and engagement. The collaboration of these groups will help develop a culture of innovation that attracts Central Indiana’s next generation of entrepreneurs.