Code for America co-executive director Abhi Nemani believes the country is ready to embrace the civic technology movement. Alongside Omaha-based online community engagement platform MindMixer, the nonprofit helping government work better through technology will instill that belief into Ideation Nation, a five-week rally that asks Americans, "How would you improve your community using technology?"
Using MindMixer's platform, the contest will gather responses online to be presented in front of a panel of judges, who will select 25 finalists. From there, the Ideation Nation community will vote on the ideas and provide feedback for the judges to make a top pick. The top entry will win a $5,000 grant and support from CFA and MindMixer in the form of mentorship, marketing, resources and more. The other 24 ideas will be pushed to CFA's Brigade of civic tech hackers to make them a reality across the country.
More than anything, the rally's goal is to show that everyone can, and should, be involved in the conversation.
"We want to give people some direction about how they can actually make a difference," Nemani (left) told Silicon Prairie News. "Part of the goal is to help people realize they interact with government all the time. People don't realize all the little things that can be changed."
And those ideas can come in any form. Nemani cited a point MindMixer CEO Nick Bowden brings up all the time—that he should be able to change his address online for his driver's license instead of waiting in line—as an example of everyday situations that can be improved. Of the time and money that can be saved.
"We are constantly striving to give citizens a voice outside of city hall," Bowden (right) told SPN. "No idea should be left unsaid. The beauty of the question is it's broad enough for anyone with an idea, big or small, to join the conversation about improving government through technology."
A potential boom Nemani sees from the project could be the ability to finally take lessons and problems solved in one city to cities across the country, instead of copying efforts.
"We spin our wheels reinventing the wheel over and over again," he said. "If we can start rebuilding reusable software in city after city it makes our cities better."
To get the word out on a large scale, CFA will reach out to its 60-plus cities it's working with—through mayors, city hall and more—and MindMixer will tap into its hundreds of thousands of active users. The organizations have had a relationship since MindMixer was selected to the nonprofit's accelerator in July 2012. Since then, Nemani said he and Bowden have been talking about ways to work together.
"We've always been really impressed with their ability to get not only local recognition but national recognition," Nemani said. "We were asking ourselves, 'What if we could bring the two forces together—our Brigade and MindMixer's 400 online communities—to work on something?'"
With shared goals to engage the nation on civic projects and government, CFA and MindMixer have created a unique partnership visualized by a growing civic tech presence—including startups such as Kansas City's Neighbor.ly—that they hope will spur regular input from citizens.
"I think we're at a turning point where it's becoming more mainstream," Nemani said. "My goals are to start a national conversation and start understanding what the opportunities are. There will be a community that emerges from this thinking about tech."
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