UndocuHack report back

This post written by: Becky Hurwitz (@bxhrz), Pedro Joel (@joelfilms), Rogelio Lopez (@Tochtli_exe) and Celso Mireles (@CelsoM3)

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The National Day of Civic Hacking seemed like the perfect event for UndocuTech to participate in.  Framed as a weekend of hackathons held throughout the US, we expected to connect with other techies committed to using data and technology to participate in government and community and to encourage people to develop apps with migrants in the service of immigration justice.   Through a shared process, we brainstormed ideas for apps to work on and selected one, the ENDApp as it related to an existing and ongoing campaign of United We Dream (UWD).  We invited people to participate in the brainstorming and selection processes and to attend events near to them.  Through these invitations, we gathered over 200 contacts who are interested in UndocuTech; we were joined by a few additional UndocuTechies in Boston and LA; and we attended events in DC, Boston, and LA.  The following is reflection on our experiences in each of these cities.
Celso on DC:
The hackathon in DC was very popular. So much so that there had to be two locations. I ended up going to the secondary location at Affinity Labs, but there was still plenty of activity going on. There were about 15 teams pitching different projects varying from “github for programming environments” to “Peace Corps Medical Supply delivery automation”. This hackathon’s popularity also meant that there were very few programmers or “techie” people to help out with every project. This resulted in my team of one working on two ideas from our UndocuHack brainstorming.
Even though I was a team of one at the hack-a-thon (something I am all too familiar with), I was able to get some good ideas from conversations with people working on other projects. One of the biggest insights was that sometimes it is not necessary to roll out this brand new custom coded project. Sometimes you can create brilliant solutions with existing platforms and frameworks (pretty much what a lot of programming is, but implemented at a more out-of-the-box level). This led to the creation of a concept design of a verified raid alert system through our SMS platform. The idea is to create a system where people sign up to receive alerts, and alerts are only sent out once they have been verified by someone in that very SMS network.
Becky on LA:
There were 2 hackathons in the city of LA — I attended one held at the Boyle Heights Youth Technology Center, a space that hosts tech, media, and college preparedness programs.  This event was sponsored by corporate tech and telecommunication companies, the city, and a financial institution.  It was accessible by public transit and well-known as a community center. The event was well-attended, event organizers estimate ~200 people and this seems accurate.  Many people from the neighborhood and young people who participate in the programs of the center attended.  The highlight for me was meeting up with other LA-based people with whom I’ve been speaking about UndocuTech, Pedro, Eric and Ken.  We spoke with some people about immigration-justice focused media and tech events and we thought that we might be able to host this in the LA area.  Surprisingly, on the first day, we were unable to connect to the internet most of the day as the number of people in the space were overwhelming the network.  As a result, I was unable to work with Celso (in DC) or Rogelio (in Boston) or to access our online project documents.  Instead, I worked with Pedro and some young people to talk about ideas for apps and to shape a process around designing an app that was of interest to our group.  We sketched ideas for an app that allows people to contribute images and media about the places in LA that they like most.  Not immigration focused, but without the ability to work on tasks that were web-based, we did what we could.  I returned the next day and fewer than 20 people were there working on projects.  I didn’t stay the full day, but was able to communicate a bit with Celso in DC about seeking data sets for the app idea.
Pedro on LA:
I went to the hackathon in LA held at Boyle Heights Youth Technology Center. This was my first hackathon ever and first time at the youth center too.  Even though I currently reside in Boyle Heights, its been about a year and Boyle Heights continues to surprise me! Although this event was sponsored by corporate companies what I really enjoyed the most was seeing youth and people of color engaged in creative thinking and coming up with new apps together!  I was especially impressed with the children that attended the event.  I was so impressed with their digital knowledge and ideas that I decided to group with them along with Becky! I had the chance to talk to them about VozMob and the immigrant workers that use it to create their own media to counteract the negative stories that are written about them! We also had a chance to do some hands on! They were able to send stories to vozmob.net and vojo.co for example: http://vozmob.net/en/node/15255! The app idea that we came up is designed to highlight places in LA and encourage people to actually go outside and explore the city of LA, which in an age of digital everything, designing programs/apps that can encourage activities outside is healthy! They went outside the box with this idea! Unfortunately due to some car problems I wasn’t able to come back the next day but Ken offered his home to do more follow up!
Rogelio on Boston:
Day 1: I attended the first event for the National Day of Civic Hacking in Boston on Friday, which consisted of short presentations of projects by attendees. One group project in particular emphasized co-design style methods for hackathons and mentioned working with MIT’s Co-Lab at DUSP. However, the presenter also mentioned being new to “hackathons” and was more accustomed to community spaces that directly involved primary stakeholders. I did not stick around for all of the presentations, but Center for Civic Media was well represented by R.A. Rodrigo Davies. I was also able to briefly talk to some of the coordinators of the Boston event, and I explained what UndocuTech was and our intention to get more awareness about CIR tech work. Most folks seemed interested in UndocuTech and were receptive to some of our projects. However, I was unable to develop any real partnerships with existing working groups through my conversations with developers and other attendees. For the most part, it seemed like people were already pretty set on what they were there to do, which left little room for newcomers to explore projects outside of their domain, such as CIR focused projects.

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Day 2: By the time I arrived at noon on Saturday, all of the working groups had already broken away into separate spaces to work on their respective project. I met up with MIT Alum Karin Lin, who I met in person for the first time after communicating much through email and Facebook. We explored the Hackathon venue, hosted at a corporate office, which only served to accentuate the overall corporate feel of the event. Many of the working groups had dedicated spaces in conference rooms, which were designated by posters on glass doors with descriptions of the projects. Two of the major groups/projects that stood out was a NASA data crunching group and a mapping project. The mapping project aimed to provide Bostonians with a way to help the city with the clearing of fire hydrants during heavy snowfall. I walked into both working spaces for several minutes, quietly observing how people were busily working on their laptops, too focused to notice the occasional wandering stranger. As most projects were already underway, Karin and I decided to explore the corporate location and we eventually found an available space (which was unfortunately hidden, around the corner, and out of sight of most other groups), and we set-up our workspace for UndocuTech. Getting online proved a challenge at first, but we eventually figure things out and were able to chat with Celso (who was in D.C.) during our first check-in. However, our Boston based UndocuHack crew didn’t stick around much longer at the National Day of Civic Hacking due to a fire emergency at my housing building (there was much water damage, but none were hurt).
Lessons learned and carrying this forward
In discussing our experiences in preparing for and participating in the National Day of Civic Hacking, we understand better what we would like out of an event for hacking immigration. The following list includes elements we expected and would commit to if we created our own UndocuTech event in the future:

  • include opportunities to work in teams with other participants;
  • have networked communication with other remote sites;
  • bring people with tech skills and people with a range of other skills together;
  • include training on methods and tools early in the event so that people have a basis for working on projects together;
  • include periodic report-backs from working groups as opportunities for people to learn about other people’s projects and to join different teams;
  • include people from communities local to the site of the hackathon;
  • include a mix of younger and older people and people of color;
  • include shared processes for brainstorming ideas and selecting projects to pursue together.

Moving forward, if we attend events like the National Day of Civic Hacking, or other organized events, we would follow a model like Migrahack (http://www.chicagomigrahack.com/), an event that was held in Chicago during the Natinol Day of Civic Hacking.  Organized by Phuong Ly and Claudia Nunez, this event was a 3-day event beginning with a day of workshops on working with data and visualization tools and techniques and followed by 2 days of design and prototype development.
Through the process of preparing for UndocuHack and attending the National Day of Civic Hacking, we identified some potential projects of shared interest and began to identify skills we need to build in order to implement these projects.  We also increased awareness about the UndocuTech project.  We’ll be able to build on this work throughout the summer to identify skillshares, potential facilitators, and participants.

Cross posted: http://undocutech.org/?p=53