Its 6pm in the evening and for many it’s the end of a work day but for Civic Tech Toronto it’s just the start of their weekly hack nights. This passionate community of diverse Torontonians come together to tackle some of the city’s biggest challenges. They take the hackathon model and extend it to provide continuity for civic projects to incubate and execute. As you walk around the room you’ll find citizens with all types of expertise huddled in groups as they brainstorm and share ideas.
It’s a unique intersection of technology, design and collaboration which has resulted in multiple successful hack nights since their start in July.
Civic Tech Toronto was inspired by Code for America, a US non-profit which, through a number of programs, organizes technologists and designers to use open source technology to “make government services simple, effective and easy to use”. Further inspiration came from the CHI hacknight, which has brought together a diverse group of “civic hackers” weekly in Chicago for over three years, and which has driven a vibrant civic tech community there. The CHI hacknight has nurtured projects which have been funded by foundations, spun out as startups, or adopted by government.
Civic Tech Toronto aims to bring interdisciplinary groups of citizens for civic good. They want to empower people to build civic tech that enables them to have a stake in their communities. According to one of the organizers, it’s about “working on a problem through design and helping the community drive impact in the real world. We aspire to open communication between organizations, and to make it easier for community groups, government, business and non-profits to work together, through design and tech.”
A key pillar of their organization is building relationships with community and government to find solutions for challenges in the city. One of their longest running projects is the Toronto Budget Project. Its mission is to support informed debate about the Toronto budget by providing a more accessible platform. Projects such as this demonstrate the power of collaboration and investing in the community.