Hack for Athens After Action Report
Asteroid Detection Network
The solution devised for the Asteroid Detection Network is viable using current technology. Perhaps we can work with Developers of Athens, CHUGALUG, and other organizations to continue to move the solution forward and be the Athens point of contact in a larger global network.
Open Data Challenge
There is still a good amount of work to be done. The data that exists is not in machine readable format, at least as it's accessible to the public. We need to connect with the commissioners to make those datasets available, even if it's one set at a time. I would vote that we start with business listings - there are some listings, but they either belong to the Chamber of Commerce, are isolated to just the downtown area, or are woefully out of date. I don't know if it would be a centralized listing drawn from business licenses/permits, or if it'd be something that local businesses would opt in for, but I feel like that might be the best first step for economic development.
The Knope Initiative
This is the project that I've been working on that doesn't really have a challenge associated with it, but I named it after the main protagonist in NBC's Parks and Recreation because that's the inspiration for the level of civic involvement that would be required for something like this to succeed. Here's what I've written up about it:
The population of Athens Clarke County, as of a December 2012 projection, is 120,266. 33.5% of that population lives below the poverty line - over 40,000 people. The Georgia state average is 17.9%. There is an established link between families and students living in poverty and the future scholastic success of those students. Many stop gap measures have been implemented, but a cohesive, long-term solution is still wanting. With one of the highest impoverished populations in the nation, Athens has a unique opportunity to develop a long-term solution that engages students at all levels, and prepares them to enter the workforce after high school and beyond with valuable skills that can help bring the median household income closer to the state level.
Government assistance as far as food, housing, and transportation is a good start. Unfortunately, these programs don't seem to have a clear path on how to then progress past that assistance, creating a drain on these programs that they weren't designed to accommodate. It's not necessarily a lack of motivation or ability - it appears to be a lack of guidance. Job training programs have either disappeared, become prohibitively expensive, or focus on skills for jobs that have long since been outsourced overseas or to software.
Of course, being a person with a technical bent, my solution is on that promotes technology education and the skills that accompany it. Those skills, including creative problem solving, logic, and systematic processes, can be applied to other areas of expertise, however. There are a number of programs and challenges available to help stimulate and teach these skills, and I've taken some time to go through and cultivate a few.
Junior FIRST LEGO League (JrFLL):
JrFLL is the first in a series of 4 programs offered by FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition in Science and Technology) stretching from kindergarten through high school. Using LEGO Mindstorms technology, JrFLL "captures young children's curiosity and directs it toward discovering the wonders of science and technology. This program features a real-world scientific concept to be explored through research, teamwork, construction, and imagination." With a relatively low price barrier to entry ($450/team, includes LEGO Mindstorm kit), this program provides an opportunity to teach young students the value of creativity and curiosity.
Recommended: 6 - 9 year olds
FIRST LEGO League (FLL):
FLL is the second program offered by FIRST, aiming to draw in late elementary and middle school students, teaching them critical thinking, team building, and presentation skills. A little more expensive to run than the JrFLL ($895/team), it also provides an opportunity for the parents to get more involved with the program - and with the right environment, teach them as well.
Recommended: 9 - 16 year olds
FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC):
FTC is the third program from FIRST, heavily focusing on improving science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) skills and based on cost ($1025/team approximately) and longevity (parts from the kit can be reused year to year) is more accessible to schools than the fourth program (FIRST Robotics Competition, $10,000+/team). Using programming and engineering skills, teams build a robot to compete in scenarios that change from year to year with help from mentors and parents, and have the opportunity to receive awards in design, community outreach, and win scholarships for college.
Recommended: Grades 7 - 12
Recommended: Middle School and High School students
Rails Girls/Women Who Code:
Rails Girls and Women Who Code initiatives are already underway in Athens. The first Rails Girls workshop in April had 40+ attendees, and a second one is in the works for October. By encouraging women to get involved with coding and learning computer science (and the non-technical skills that are associated with it), we can improve opportunities for women in development and encourage more diversity in our community at large in Athens.
Recommended: High School students and beyond
Free IT Athens training partnership:
Technical literacy - knowing how technology works on a whole - is a necessity for most jobs any more, and is unfortunately an unattractive prospect for many. Free IT Athens is an established resource in Athens and working with them to create a program to teach technical literacy and other aspects of computing and technology will enable adults of all ages to have a better foundation from which they can grow.
Using the National Day of Civic Hacking and the NASA Space Apps challenge as a template and challenge repository, we could design a summer camp that brings in students to work on challenges as a team and present their solution to a panel of judges who can give them feedback and support on implementing their solution. Details still need to be worked out, but having students from UGA and attendees from the Rails Girls workshop act as coaches would not only give those coaches an opportunity to give back to the community, but also show them that there are reasons to stay in Athens during the summer and potentially beyond graduation.
Recommended: Middle School and High School students
National Day of Civic Hacking/NASA Space Apps challenge:
These events tend to have a heavy developer presence, but we need more community involvement from non-technical professionals as well. Getting students, teachers, and local officials involved can help us make a bigger impact and impress the importance of being involved in civic government as a citizen.
We've had visits from the GA Secretary of State, but we need more local involvement at the local level. How can we improve accessibility to data collected by the county if the managers of those resources aren't available to provide access? Give us what is needed to solve the challenge, and we can do the work.
Money is always a problem. Follow through is a problem. Having a limited resource pool (or the perception of one) stops conversations before they start. Buy in from civic officials is a challenge. We can only solve these problems with persistence, team work, and awareness.