Experimental Civics


5 Ways You Can Use Local Hacking Sprints to Change the World

How does social change happen? | Social Innovation Blog Series

Sarah Sharif (r), Founder and CEO of Experimental Civics based in Austin, Texas and Charlotte van Oostrum (l), freelance consultant and researcher in content strategy, design and management and Community Developer for Offcourse.io based in Rotterdam Area, The Netherlands met each other at SXSW 2017 and started to churn over this question.

Charlotte van Oostrum and Sarah Sharif

How does social change happen?

During our Skype conversations, we often found ourselves coming back to this question. Most of these conversation circled back to the potential of local innovation. After all, it’s people who know what they, their families and their communities need. All we need is a way to uncover that knowledge and transform it.

Per Sarah’s experience as a civic hacker, local community efforts such as hackathons can do just that… and it is in these pockets of creativity that we believe lies the power to push progress towards positive outcomes.

So here are 5 ways that you can use local hacking sprints to change the world.

Include everyone

Community events are usually open to the general public and free of charge. And civic hackathons are spaces where the community gets to decide what they want to talk about. What they want to act on. The event urges people to engage with all ages and backgrounds.

The premise is that together, you will come up with ideas and solutions to real, lived problems. Including everyone will lead to a group of people as diverse as possible.

Diversity is indispensable when it comes to figuring out what problem to solve, and what the potential solution could be. Including everyone is your best bet to find a lived problem and create a lived solution for it.

ATX Hack for Change 2016 — Captured by Kandid.ly (Media Sponsor)

Set a clear agenda

Every community has its own issues. Each community has their own history, culture, and demographic makeup. There is no one solution to all of these problems and for us to successfully tackle these hurdles, we have to be clear in our agenda. No matter whether communities are across the world or less than 5 miles apart, we have to each share the common goal and work together effectively to achieve that goal.

Whether it is by having smaller, workable community projects or larger challenges, each effort should play a strategic role in the creation of solutions. Having a clear agenda means that you’re transparent in your goals. It will allow you to align a group of people who share a focus. This is your setup for success.

Just do for impact

We can talk or write at length about change. But change can’t be just a conversation. Change takes place in the world. It therefore has to be linked to something tangible — whether a product or another outcome (pilot project, training series, competition entry).

A hackathon, or another interactive and immersive community experience, is critical to start a cycle of impact. One sprint followed by another is a chance to iterate upon ideas from yourself or others. Once the solution truly answers the community’s needs, the impact will follow.

Courtesy of Kiwi Compute

One great example of this is in 2017 is: Kiwi Compute. They launched in January 2016, attending ATX Hack for Change in 2017, applied for and won the GigaTECH apps competition funded by U.S. Ignite, National Science Foundation, and the City of Austin.

They hosted a hackathon to jumpstart their scaling efforts and are now taking full advantage of the possibilities that lay before their feet with teaching more children to code. As Kiwi illustrates, just go ahead and do something with your ideas.

Don’t wait until the idea is perfect. Instead, go through trial and error phases and gain real experience about and insight into the problem that your solving. This way, your next version of your idea will be better than the previous one. You can’t think that up. You have to go about and do something.

Biteable problems

It’s easy to get overwhelmed with all the problems that pollute our current environments and deciding which problem should be next to attempt to solve. In a recent discussion, we realized it’s hard to have those conversations with those that are not change-ready or those willing to have an open mind with the topic content.

Break it down, it’s fine for us to tackle these items in pieces. We can’t change the world overnight, but we can take all the steps to ensure that we’re moving in the right direction. How to do this? Think about where you want to go. Then figure out the smallest step you can take right now to get there. Take this step.

Sarah: I know that this is why I’m a big advocate for the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) and why I’m pushing folks to adopt the overarching message for their social work.

It’s a common language to help us connect the web faster. Additionally, something on a more positive note, there is so much good happening in the world and this provides the space for those voices and work to be elevated and worked on collectively.

Experience the ease

We have shared how the experience of the benefits of change are usually the only, foolproof ways for people to understand the change that you’re sharing with them. Especially on the social scale. We know that this aligns with the local aspect in relation to the impact you can viscerally feel and see with other community members in your routine environment. We all have to experience the benefits of change to adopt them, if there are some to be had.

We’re always debating these topics and continuing to brainstorm our thoughts and ideas for implementing better methods towards social innovation. We both are confident that local sprints are just another piece of the larger puzzle towards positive, global social change.

We’re always open to your thoughts, feel free to reach out to us and thank you (dank je) for reading.

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