Tag Archives: South Bend

I Committed an Act of Civic Hacking

And you can, too!

The weekend of June 1 and 2 will be the Day of Civic Hacking. While helping to organize the Hack Michiana event, I discovered that I committed an act of hacking. Let me share it with you, and then make a case for you to join the hacking on June 2 in South Bend.


My hacking started with something I found annoying. Every day I drove to work, I passed by any number of houses that must have had municipal code violations. Code violations are things like grass more than nine inches tall, broken windows, those sorts of things; they create major quality of life issues for the city’s residents. It was never clear whether the city knew about the problem, or not, and if anything was happening with the matter.

The Initial Situation

It turns out that the city of South Bend has  a site where you can look up code violations one at a time by doing a “case search.” While this approach is useful if you are trying to look at a single property, it is not that useful for identifying trends, clusters of properties in a certain geography, or identify patterns where single landlords might be responsible for a whole host of houses that are in violation of municipal code.

There had to be a better way!

Search By Case

Eureka Moment

I noticed that as I drilled into individual cases, looking for the status, the URL with case details contained an attribute for “Case Year” and an attribute for “Case Number.” Lo, and behold, the case numbers were largely sequential. Sure, sometimes there were gaps, but for the most part they went up sequentially.

What are computers good at? They’re really good at following patterns.

Requesting Assistance

My software development skills are no longer what they use to be. I knew it should be possible to create a program or script that would crawl the cases and pull out data into a table that would be more useful than looking up individual cases.  I contacted a former coworker of mine, Charlie, and asked for assistance with this project. Before too long, Charlie had written a Python script that could increment the case numbers and pull the interesting data elements off the web page. What we got was a file with information like Owner Name, Street Number, Street Name, Case Type, Case Status, etc.. All of the sudden, we a collection of data and not just individual data points.

Visualizing the Data

The next challenge, now that we had a bunch of data, was to tackle the visualization. Again, asking a favor of a former coworker, Ken. Ken agreed to help out. The Google Maps API was something he had been interested in, and this project was an opportunity to explore it for a particular purpose. After some tinkering with the API, we decided that an interim solution was to use an service called BatchGeo, which would geocode a file and visualize it in Google Maps. It was a crude solution, but adequate for where we were at the time.

Map of South Bend Code ViolationsWhat we ended up with was a map of the code violations in South Bend. The color coding shows the issues that are closed, and those that are open. You can zoom in or out, filter, and search. You can go down to the street level and then click through to the City of South Bend’s web site for additional details. Pretty nifty, I think.

Now What?

I wanted to give one example of some civic hacking that I fell into. There are lots of challenges, and you can help solve one. Join us on June 2 for Hack Michiana, our local participation in the National Day of Civic Hacking.

Civic Hacking isn’t  about technology. While it is interesting to scrape data, geocode it, and then visualize it on a map, the real value comes from being able to foster positive action based on the liberated data. That is where we need a broad range of people to participate in Civic Hacking. You can help turn information into action!

What might one do now that they can see more patterns in the data?

What collaborations between concerned citizens, community organizations, and the government might be possible once people really grasp the situation?

We need your participation. It might not be for this project, but there is a project somewhere that you could become passionate about and make huge contributions to.

More Information on Civic Hacking

This video is a nice introduction to Civic Hacking. Take a few minutes to watch it, and I look forward to seeing you on Sunday, June 2.

5 Global Game Jam Lessons For Your Team

This weekend, I had the experience of participating in Global Game Jam at IUSB. How does an event like “Global Game Jam” relate to your work? Keep reading….

What is Global Game Jam

In short, GGJ is a weekend-long event that starts at 5:00 PM Friday and ends at 3:00 PM on Sunday. Within that 46 hours, participants form teams and each team creates a game that is based on an announced theme. The IUSB Global Game Jam event, in my opinion, an unqualified success. How did we go from largely a group of strangers to two teams that produced  I Dream of Oleg the Unicorn and Heart Maze? This post has some of those observations and some suggestions for your “real” work.


A Purpose – The goal of the weekend was to create a game in 46 hours. The goal was unambiguous. People who were not interested in supporting that purpose were not present. And we weren’t just a group of folks individuals that were “working.” The purpose allowed us to really get excited about what we were doing.

Embracing Diversity – The event, and fellow participants, welcomed participants who were interested in making a game. Period. Game creation requires a wide range of skills; music, art, software, testing, imagination, organization, and many more. We collectively found ways to contribute, and to encourage others to contribute.

Visible Work Plan at the IUSB Global Game Jam

Loose Organization – The work we had to do was made visible and tracked. A light-weight backlog was on a whiteboard, the name of the person who took on the task was next to the activity. Notice I didn’t say the person who was given the task.We made the work that had to be completed visible, and people took it on. We even had a local reporter for the newspaper hear that we needed the sound of a fish, and she offered up her heretofore under-appreciated “fish” sound to the cause. Loose organization creates room for people to contribute.

Effective Leadership – We had a leader emerge on the team. The leader kept the goal of the weekend in front of us. Ideas were welcomed. Some of those ideas made it into the game, and others were struck from the plan as the weekend went on. The presence of the goal and a leader who could help the team decide, allowed for prioritization of the various ideas.

Nothing says “light mood” like high-fiving unicorns with an explosion and rainbows! Thank you, Tim Bell, for the awesome art work on this!

Light Mood – I have participated in similar weekend-long events. One reflection on this event relative to the others is that I left Global Game Jam feeling fairly relaxed. While I enjoyed participating in the 2011 Grand Rapids Give Camp and local Startup Weekends, they seemed much more exhausting.  Don’t get me wrong; both Give Camp and Startup Weekend were excellent events. But, the mood was much lighter during Game Jam, despite having a similar weekend-long event with a hard deadline.

Make Your Work Jam

Take the lessons from Global Game Jam, and look for ways to apply them to your work, and improve the effectiveness of your teams:

  • Make sure that the team has a purpose, and that it is kept in front of the team. If you don’t know what the purpose is, go find it.
  • Embrace the diversity of skills and perspectives on your team, and celebrate them. People likely have hidden talents that will make your team stronger. Create space for those talents to emerge.
  • Keep the organization of the work as light as possible. Remove what is unnecessary. Overweight organization is both productivity-killing and soul crushing.
  • Build leadership skills on your teams. Build people who can help share a vision, and rally others around the common goal.
  • Keep the mood light, and the energy high. Whether you are a team member, a stakeholder, or a manager, help foster a lighter mood on your team.

In conclusion, I want to take a moment to appreciate the team: Adam Valdez, Andrew Kroepel, Blake Robertson, Charlie Guse, Jen Purdy, Matt Forsythe, Matt Neumann, Sarah Gradeless, and Tim Bell. Your spirit and talent made a busy weekend very enjoyable.

Innovation Park at Notre Dame First Monday

Innovation Park at Notre Dame has announced a new First Monday event with the topic of “Social Media for Small and Medium Size Businesses.” Don Schindler will be presenting from 6:30 to 8:30 at this learning and networking event.

It is free and open to entrepreneurial folks who register. So, register for First Monday at Innovation Park. See you there.