Wichita developer starts ‘civic hacking’ group

Balanced Comp’s Seth Etter is organizing a “civic hacking” group that wants to use public data to solve local problems and increase government transparency. (May 20, 2015)
Balanced Comp’s Seth Etter is organizing a “civic hacking” group that wants to use public data to solve local problems and increase government transparency. (May 20, 2015) The Wichita Eagle

For local developer Seth Etter, the best way to solve a problem is to look at the data.

Etter is the organizer behind Open Wichita – a new “civic hacking” group that aims to solve community problems and increase government transparency through public information.

The idea is simple: Identify community problems, look for solutions in data, and present those solutions to public officials.

Some examples of issues Open Wichita could tackle include creating an app to show all the bike paths in town or analyzing data already gathered by the city to show public officials ways to solve transit problems, Etter said.

Although the projects the group pursues could intersect with local politics, Etter said his goal is for the group to not become politicized. He wants the solutions to be guided by the data.

Open Wichita is not just for tech types, Etter said. The group needs people from all backgrounds with the common goal of civic engagement.

“I want anybody who has an idea about what to fix in the community to come,” Etter said.

While the word “hacking” tends to have a negative connotation, Etter said that it’s more about being able to come up with creative solutions and, in this case, using technology.

“We’re not doing anything illegal, by any means,” he said.

One of the partners in the new venture is the city of Wichita, which will help provide members ideas of what kind of data is available and in what format.

“The fact that we’re already getting support from the local government is huge. A lot of cities give pushback,” Etter said. “It gives us a lot of hope for the group.”

Mike Mayta, director of IT for the city of Wichita, said partnering with the group helps meet the city’s goal of making Wichita a better community.

“It’s also an opportunity for us to extend resources that we can’t normally afford,” Mayta said.

As a way to get people talking about potential projects, Open Wichita will host a kickoff event from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on June 6 at the Labor Party, 216 S. Mosley. Lunch will be provided.

June 6 is the National Day of Civic Hacking, an offshoot of Code for America, which is made up of a network of groups across the country that aim to “build open source technology and organize a network of people dedicated to making government services simple, effective, and easy to use,” according to its website.

Some examples of what other cities have done through similar events include a website called Aunt Bertha, which helps people find public assistance for food and housing based on their ZIP codes; Captricity, which allows people to more easily search and share public data; and CityVoice, a call-in system for residents to give feedback to public officials.

Etter hopes the group will meet monthly after determining several projects that it wants to pursue.

To learn more about the event or to RSVP, visit http://www.meetup.com/openwichita/events/222513225/.

Reach Kelsey Ryan at 316-269-6752 or kryan@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @kelsey_ryan.

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