The Civic Difference: Hacking for Social Progress


We attended two hackathons over the past two weekends. In each case, Mobility was part of a larger team dedicated to solving a specific problem in a very short timeline. We found the hackathons to be very different, however. The first weekend was the National Day of Civic Hacking, and was held here at the Affinity Lab. The challenges were proposed by various Federal agencies and non-profits, and each was designed to solve some social issue. The second weekend was Angel Hack, our second time at this event. Angel Hack had much less focus on accomplishing social goals, though a few teams did take on serious issues.

In both cases, we found great opportunities to grow professionally, learning more about rapid collaboration and deployment of complex solutions. We also gained much from the experience of working with a wide-ranging team, as well as interacting with many other teams and seeing how people with different skill-sets are out there solving the tech problems facing our community.

In the end, though, we felt that the civic nature of the first weekend added a level of seriousness and professionalism, and gave us a greater sense of accomplishment. We had the opportunity to work directly with the sponsors of the project, two Whitehouse Fellows representing the Department of Labor. They brought a lot of insight into the needs we were trying to solve, and gave us a direct sense of how important the issue is to those posting the challenge.

The issue we chose to address was called the Women Veteran Data Challenge, but it was really about finding ways to reach women veterans who are unemployed or underemployed, a situation this group is facing at rates greater than their male counterparts.