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‘Hack’ public data for a good cause at CodeAcross DeKalb

February 15, 2016

coding-communityNIU students, DeKalb community members, civic leaders, computer coders, and tech enthusiasts will come together Saturday, March 5, in Founders Memorial Library for the first CodeAcross DeKalb, a free, day-long event exploring how public data can be harnessed for public good.

The day will begin at 10 a.m. with a quick introduction to the idea of “civic hacking,” the practice of writing programs that access publicly available data – on anything from health and crime to infrastructure and economic development – and try to make it more accessible and useful for citizens, nonprofits and government.

“The data is out there,” said Tracy Rogers-Tryba, a research associate at NIU’s Center for P-20 Engagement, the event’s host.

“But often it’s just sitting on big spreadsheets that are hard for people to use. Civic hacking can change that. The data can become a map, or a chart, or an app that sends out real-time updates about community needs.”

Anyone interested in attending can register online at

Free parking will be available in the parking deck and lot near the library. Each participants needs to bring a computer, a snack or lunch, and enthusiasm for addressing local challenges. By the end of the day, new computer applications based on participants’ ideas will be under way.

Participants do not need coding experience.

“Code is just one piece of the puzzle,” Rogers-Tryba said. “This is a day for anyone who wants to see their community working better. Coders do not build applications on their own. They need to collaborate with subject matter experts and community members to understand how open data can be used in multiple and diverse ways.”

code-acrossThe event is the brainchild of a national nonprofit called Code for America. Similar CodeAcross gatherings will be taking place all across the country.

Renowned civic hacker Christopher Whitaker, Code for America’s Chicago “brigade captain,” will deliver the DeKalb keynote. In 2013, Whittaker was named a White House Champion of Change for his community-based tech work.

After Whittaker’s speech, a City of DeKalb official will suggest possible uses for local data that is already available.

For the rest of the day, participants will break into teams, roll up their sleeves and get to work on possible hacks. Before going home, each team will give a short presentation about its progress.

And that’s just the beginning. On June 4, the P-20 Center will host a follow-up Code for Good event. “People who come up with great ideas in March don’t need to stop when they go home,” Rogers-Tryba said. “They can keep working – keep taking advantage of the new, productive connections they made. Then, in June, they can report back.”

TechBark, an NIU student organization focused on the wide variety of civic and entrepreneurial uses of computer code, helped the P-20 Center prepare for the event.

“We’re excited,” said Luis Martinez, TechBark’s treasurer. “We’re excited to use our skills as a way to get more involved with the greater DeKalb community.”

For more information, call (815)753-2090 or email [email protected].