When the idea of civic hacking was first emerging in the U.S., Rachel Hatch was at the forefront of the movement, both due to her personal beliefs and position at IFTF. Rachel is a Research Director for Institute for the Future, a Silicon Valley think tank. IFTF has a nearly 50-year track record of helping a wide variety of organizations create the futures they want. As Rachel puts it, “The future is not predetermined. We are actually constantly making the future, and steering toward preferred futures.” As a Research Director for IFTF, she puts this belief into practice every day within her profession — and every day within her own community of Redding, California.
It may be surprising to learn that Rachel does not reside in Palo Alto, the Silicon Valley hub where IFTF is located, but instead has chosen to live in the semi-rural community of Redding. A community that has, in recent times, been featured on multiple “worst city” lists. Given the grim outlook for Redding, and many cities like it, Rachel’s specialization in the future of cities could not have found a better home.
While Rachel was hard at work for IFTF, she was also looking for ways to help her community build a better future for itself. In 2013, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy announced the first National Day of Civic Hacking, a day set aside for individuals from across the country to use their skill sets to change the shape of the future for their own communities and local governments.
Rachel worked with IFTF as part of the original National Day of Civic Hacking collaborations, but it wasn’t until the following year that Rachel found an opportunity to get her own community of Redding involved in the civic hacking world.
“Inviting people into the story of a community and its future.”
In 2014, Rachel learned about the annual Edit-a-Thon put on by Art+Feminism. Years before, a Wikimedia survey discovered that less than 13% of Wikipedia contributors are women, leading to a lack of representation of notable women on Wikipedia. By the 2016 Edit-a-Thon, 2,500 participants created or edited over 3,000 articles about women artists! Notably, this group of Edit-a-Thon participants wasn’t limited to people with a technology background. To Rachel, it proved that even a small group without technological talent could make a big change when focused on one goal.
That same year, Rachel began work on bringing the idea of civic hacking to Redding. Inspired by the Edit-a-Thon, she organized Redding’s own Wikipedia editing day, in part to combat the inclusion of Redding in the “worst city” lists that had been circulating online.
Participants found that the Wikipedia page for Redding completely erased the local native history of the Wintu tribe, as well as the area’s most notable benefits, including world-famous fly fishing and the Sundial Bridge designed by renowned Spanish architect and engineer Santiago Calatrava. In just one day, citizens from all backgrounds — most without any tech experience — made 57 edits to the Redding Wikipedia page. This unique coding-free approach to the 2014 National Day of Civic Hacking caught the attention of a representative of the national group actually running the National Day of Civic Hacking. They chose to be in Redding that day instead of at any other of their sponsored events taking place around the country.
Today, Rachel’s civic hacking initiative in Redding has given birth to a creative app called Paintify that helps the city deal with unwanted graffiti, but also focuses on the other side of the coin — finding great places where public art would be welcome. It took years of hard work and dedication, but Rachel’s belief in her own city is now paying off in the form of real, tangible change.
“Any local community who wants to grow their local civic hacker scene should be patient with themselves because eventually it does happen.”
Rachel has proven that any community, no matter how rural or “backwoods” it may seem, can come together to create their own preferred future. After spending years growing the civic hacker community, identifying tech talent, and building relationships with local government, the civic hacking scene has the potential to thrive in Redding like never before.
Likewise, Redding’s overall tech community is also growing. With new tech-centered organizations, creative spaces, incubators, and companies sprouting in Redding, the pool of citizens able to contribute to local civic hacking is getting bigger all the time.
Hopefully this true story of civic hacking leadership outside of a major metropolitan area has inspired you to find a way to hack your own city, whether or not you have technological know-how. Rachel shares the rest of her ideas and tips for civic hacking in a rural or semi-rural community in her keynote video from the 2017 Civic Hacker Summit. Join the Network today to get access to the full interview and be inspired!
Developing a Civic Hacker Community
After being so present in Silicon Valley and the tech scene as a Research Director for Institute for the Future, Rachel was surprised to learn that most people still viewed “hacking” as a negative event done mainly by nefarious individuals in dark basements. She sought to change that, and found the perfect launching pad in her own semi-rural city of Redding, California.
In her keynote interview for the 2017 Civic Hacker Summit, Rachel shares how she took a small group of citizens, most without technology backgrounds, and created a team of civic hackers to put tech to work for the benefit of their city. Learn how she did it, and how you can, too, when you gain access to the Civic Hacker Summit archives.