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ATX Hack For Change

Chris and Ian volunteered their time and talents at "ATX Hack For Change 2015" at St. Edward's University in South Austin over the weekend of June 5th through 7th 2015. (For non-Texans, "ATX" stands for Austin, Texas.) The Hack brings people who have great ideas to make the world a little better place and teams them up with software developers, code writers, designers, artists, project managers, and nerds of all disciplines and stripes.

There were 20 teams, and they had some amazing ideas; they had dreams for apps and solutions that ran the gamet from tracking stolen bike reports on the APD database to a battery-powered heating blanket to be free-sourced on the internet for premature babies born in the poorest areas of the world. There were many worthy causes that needed help, and there was some amazing work performed that weekend to help them advance the ball.

Then, on Sunday afternoon, they take their projects with all the progress made over the weekend and present it to a panel of judges (the Hack was sponsored by IBM, City of Austin, and AT&T who sent tech managers and executives to judge) and the winner got an opportunity to present for a grant.

Chris was recruited by Marion Sanchez from the City of Austin's Community Engagement department. She came to the ATX Hack for Change with a broad mission -- create a tool box of ideas for community outreach and engagement for diverse and isolated communities. Seven participants gelled around the project and after four hours of brainstorming, they had a working hypothesis as to why people can't or don't engage with the City, where to find them, and how to reach them through various channels. Twenty different approaches, from block parties, to website redesign, to various apps were suggested. The group came to consensus on the app called Austin Sync & Lync. The app, when developed, will enable citizens to give feedback to the City and receive updates on previous suggestions. Two-way communication is the goal for the app design. Next year, Marion will ask the ATX Hackers to build the app because the backend logistics will be scoped out over the next year.

Because Chris doesn't code, she wasn't sure she had a role to play in this project. But she was able to use her extensive project management, consensus building, and group facilitation skills in order for them to generate a broad spectrum of options and to finally narrow them all down to one.

Ian was recruited by Jennifer, an employee of the Austin Parks & Recreation Department who wanted an activity website specifically targeted to the city's summer camp counselors. They currently have a three-ring binder full of diagrams for puppets, dioramas, toilet paper roll forts and airplanes, and everything else you need to keep hyperactive 10-year-olds focused and engaged for an afternoon. Unfortunately, the binder is HUGE and runs to a couple of thousand pages... thus it's a serious struggle to not only lug around, but to search through. They had digitalized most of the pages, but needed a website and a customized search engine that allowed the counselors (mostly high school and college kids between the ages of 17 and 24) to plug in a list of materials on hand and get project suggestions. The team named the website "Camp Town," and Ian drew a series of cartoons to be shown on the big screen during the final presentation (they only had three minutes to present and two minutes for questions from the judges) to illustrate the "Problem" of dealing with the binder and the "Solution" of using the Camp Town website. The cartoons can be seen in the "Our Clients" section of this website.

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