'Building a Platform for Civic Innovation'

On June 9, 2016, Asia Society Northern California partnered with Code for Pakistan and hosted “Civic Hackers: Code for Social Activism in Asia.” The event explored how technology and coding is used in Asia and the U.S. to improve citizens’ lives, highlighted the diversity of challenges each society faces, and explored the role technologists play in possible solutions.

Vivek Srinivasan of Stanford University’s Program on Liberation Technology moderated the event and launched the program with a comment on technology’s role in civic engagement. Nicole Neditch, Senior Director of Community Engagement at Code for America, traced Code for America’s history from its beginning to its current international iteration and current Fellowship program. The aim at Code for America is to pair qualified technologists with government entities to improve or create existing processes; in other words to “hack the way your government works.” According to Neditch, the notion of hacking is very contextual so it can be multidisciplinary.

Ashar Rizqi, President of Code for Pakistan, spoke about the organization’s founding by former Code for America Fellow, Sheba Najimi, who organized the first hackathon in Pakistan as an experiment. Multiple hackathons later, the emphasis of the organization is on localization: how specific problems impact specific cities as opposed to transplanting a model from one city to another. Each city is its own startup with the hope to incubate citizenship. Rizqi mentioned a specific initiative in Peshawar that was developed to address traffic violations and poor road conditions, and did so through data collection, submitting the data to traffic wardens, and discovering the tools for possible solutions.

Code for India founding team member Harini Ganesh described meeting Code for India founder Karl Mehta at a hackathon at Stanford in 2013. In the spirit of giving back to the community, she and some colleagues started a local Code for India chapter at work; in 2014, the first parallel hackathon was 24 hours of coding between Bangalore and the U.S. Ganesh stated that the projects include: digitization of the voter registration process; Spotter, a crowdsource app where users can report infrastructure issues so data can be collected for future improvements; Rescue Me, a women’s safety app; and Scale Up India, an educational website.

The need for government transparency is paramount to g0v.tw (gov zero) according to Ping Yeh, a contributor. Unlike the Code for organizations, only 40% of contributors are coders. Taiwan is rated first in the Global Data Index and g0v.tw initially started when coders made an interactive map of the government budget. The next initiative included digitizing campaign finance reports whereby 10,000 people coded 300,000+ items in 24 hours. Efforts have grown to include pet adoption projects and an online dictionary that is now frequently used by schools.

The panelists participated in a moderated session with Srinivasan followed by two breakout sessions. In groups of approximately 20-25 attendees, the panelists addressed audience members’ questions in a more informal environment.