Projects Under Way

We’ve got so much going on at the CivicLab! Here is our Flickr home page with images from many of the exciting activities and projects that have happened here.
Apps for Activists - Tools to solve persistent problems of organizing and community improvement efforts. First up on the lab workbench – “Sign Me Up/I’m Here!” tool to let attendees at rallies and public meetings connect with the organizers of the event. For more information or to jump in, contact Benjamin.

Apps for Activists – National Day of Civic Hacking Prep – Part I

June 1-2, 2013 is National Day of Civic Hacking. A common problem with hackathons is that people without programming skills get left behind due to the pressure of having to build something in such a short amount of time. However, the development of technologies for social good are greatly enhanced when they can be designed in concert with the communities that will eventually use them. In order to reach a compromise between these two competing interests, Civic Lab is holding a few workshops leading up to National Day of Civic Hacking for technologists and community groups to meet and develop some ideas so that on the NDoCH they can hit the ground running.

We had the first MeetUp in this series on March 27, 2013 was graciously hosted by Table XI. In our first meeting we started right at the beginning – meeting people and the application of listening to design. Greg Baugues from Table XI gave an excellent talk on ”How To Be The Most Interesting Man In The World”, a guide for the socially awkward to hack face to face conversations by treating them as an engineering challenge. Instead of learning how to get better at talking to people, Greg challenged us to practice how to let people talk to us. Here are some of his tips:

1)  If you meet someone for a half hour and they do twenty eight minutes of the talking, they will think it was the most interesting conversation they have ever had.

2)  Keep a chess clock in your head – asking questions such as “How so’?” or “In what way’?” is like hitting the clock and letting the other person make their move. The goal is to use as little of time on your clock as possible.

3)  You don’t get any points in social interactions for telling people they’re wrong – most of our experiences are informed by our past, trying understanding why someone might hold that opinion instead.

Listening to others is essential for design so next we turned our attention to an example of this in action. We took a look at a short video of a TED talk by Amy Smith of MITs D-Lab whose motto is “Development through Dialogue, Design, and Dissemination” to see what we can learn from her experience designing a cheap, simple and practical tool for turning farm mom into clean-burning fuel; a tool that can help prevent the deaths of more than 2 million children who die from indoor  cooking fumes each year. Some lessons included:

1) Understand the community you are working in by listening to what their daily life is like. An initial prototype of the solution  was dependent on an outside source of materials nearly 800km away which was impossible in villages where people worked 10 hours a day and had little access to transportation.

2) In the end an integral part of the solution to their design challenge came from the family recipe of own of her students. Solutions like this can’t rise to the top if we create environment that promote the idea that leaders have all the solutions.

3) Abstract the key elements of the problem instead of coming up with a one size fits all solution. Doing so enabled D-Lab to solve the same problem all across the globe using different local materials each time.

We plan on having another hackathon prep meet up before June’s hackathon in early May. If you’re interested, sign up for the Innovation and Social Good MeetUp group to be notified when we pick a date. Participation in NDoCH is not a requirement for these workshops, the skills will be discussing will be useful for everyone.


Download a three-page summary of the CivicLab Project (PDF). We’re just getting organized – but we’re already busy building our first tool for citizen journalism, civic engagement and government accountability. Welcome to The TIF Report Project.


Introducing The CivicLab Here is a presentation about the need for and mission of The Civic Lab along with an explanation of our first project – The Tax Increment Finance (TIF) Report. Our sister web site, The TIF Report, is under construction.