CityCamp NC 2016 attendees. Credit: CityCamp NC (CC-BY-NC)

7 Years of Civic Tech in the Triangle

A timeline and history of the Triangle’s civic tech scene and the Tweet that started it all.

The civic tech and open government scene in the Triangle is alive and vibrant. The intersection of citizens, elected officials, and civil servants collaborating on solutions to solve community problems is creating a high level of engagement. This engagement is creating new opportunities and having a positive impact for the entire community (and beyond).

But how did all this open government acceleration begin and why are people so interested in getting involved? Let’s take a look back at the last seven years and how an unconference format called CityCamp came to Raleigh and what the future of civic tech looks like for our communities.

History of CityCamp

CityCamp was founded by Kevin Curry and Jen Pahlka, and the first CityCamp was held in Chicago on January 23–24, 2010. Afterwards, in an effort to inspire cities around the world to start their own CityCamp, the brand was opened for re-use by anyone. (Source: CityCamp Playbook)

This was a citizen revolution of sorts that helped to jumpstart the open government movement, known then and sometimes still referred to as gov 2.0. Of course, since the first CityCamp, open data has become a major part of the open government movement and continues to evolve.

While I did not attend the first CityCamp, I’ve come to know booth Jen and Kevin very well. One of the big reasons CityCamp was essentially open sourced, was because people were so excited about the first event, they wanted Jen and Kevin to come to their city and organize a CityCamp event. Jen was about to launch Code for America and Kevin had his own company to run. Instead of running everyone’s events, they asked for help to document what a successful CityCamp should accomplish and made the playbook for others to follow and put it under a Creative Commons license.

Jason Hibbets hosting at CityCamp NC. Credit: CityCamp NC (CC-BY-NC)

To my knowledge, the first CityCamp in Chicago was the only nationwide CityCamp in the United States. While there have been hundreds of CityCamp’s held around the world the closest thing we’ve had to a national gathering is Transparency Camp and the Code for America Summit. Although, the first Code for America Brigade Congress is happening this October 13–15 in Philadelphia, PA and will have an unconference format and have a national presence. Looks like the band is getting back together.

How CityCamp came to Raleigh

It all started with a conversation on Twitter between myself and Raleigh City Councilor Bonner Gaylord. Inspired by a successful pilot of SeeClickFix in District E, Councilor Gaylord was looking for more ways to improve citizen engagement. Basically, Bonner saw that CityCamp’s were happening at other cities across the country, liked the format and outcomes, and thought we should do one in Raleigh to foster citizen engagement. I was immediately onboard, and so were 10 other passionate volunteers who eventually became the planning team for the first CityCamp Raleigh.

The volunteer team of citizens started to meet weekly at Helios Cafe to start the planning process. We were actually able to o raise enough money (about $10k), secure venues, and get speakers for the event in a 12-week period. The first CityCamp in Raleigh was a huge success. The organizers were agile, scrappy, and together, had a lot of experience for almost everything we needed to host a successful CityCamp to drive engagement from both the citizen and government side.

Rebranding as CityCamp NC

After two years of running CityCamp Raleigh the planning team, which become Code for Raleigh in October of 2012, had a tough decision to make. Continue on as CityCamp Raleigh or rebrand as CityCamp Triangle or CityCamp NC.

Rebranding was going to happen based on two years of successful events and outcomes. The big question was to expand regionally and focus on the Triangle or go big and focus on a statewide approach. Seeing other brigades form in NC and reading stories coming from other parts of the state, Charlotte and Asheville in particular, it made sense to go for a statewide approach and avoid rebranding again in 2–3 years. Looking back as this decision, we think it was the right one.

The grand vision for CityCamp NC is to be a gathering of all the North Carolina Code for America brigades, which currently includes: Asheville, Cary, Charlotte, Durham, Greensboro, and Raleigh. The event has multiple goals: highlight different projects each brigade works on, collaborate on projects and ideas, and discuss the major issues we are facing and work on solutions to solve them. The big idea is that we strengthen our collective civic hacking movement when we work together.

A partnership with NC DataPalooza

In late 2015 at the NC DataPalooza finale, I started talking with NC DataPalooza chair Zach Ambrose about a potential partnership between CityCamp NC and NC DataPalooza. There was already some overlap in the people on the planning committees and we recognized that having teams compete in the open data competition from May to September was too long of a period. We looked at the benefits of a partnership and decided to go for it.

In 2016, the planning teams from CityCamp NC and NC DataPalooza launched a minimum viable product (MVP) called NC Open Pass. It combined all of our events, Open Data Day, National Day of Civic Hacking, CityCamp NC, and NC DataPalooza, into a single ticket. The NC DataJam event would now be part of the CityCamp NC hackathon and the competitive prize money would go through NC DataPalooza.

In addition to partnering and combining events, we moved our events to the fall and shortened the period for the open data competition to begin in late September and conclude in early November–giving teams 6–8 weeks to work on their projects.

We also partnered with All Things Open to have team pitches for NC DataPalooza happen during the event at the Raleigh Convention Center. This pitch session at All Things Open would then determine the three teams who will compete at the NC DataPalooza finale in November.

The 7th CityCamp hosted by Code for Raleigh

And here we are, in 2017. Six years after the first CityCamp Raleigh was held. Volunteers are eagerly planning the fall event series for NC Open Pass. While it’s only the fifth CityCamp NC, it’s the seventh CityCamp event that Code for Raleigh has planned. By the way, the partnership between CityCamp NC and NC DataPalooza was strengthened in 2017 when the planning teams joined forces.

We’ve come a long way from 2011. We’ve seen open data portals launched in six municipalities around the Triangle including Raleigh, Cary, Wake County, City and County of Durham, Chapel Hill, and Wake Forest. Other open data portals from around the state include Asheville, Charlotte, and Greensboro.

And the NC Open Pass event series is shaping up to be another year you don’t want to miss. Mark your calendars with these important dates for the fall of 2017:

You can register for both events at the NC Open Pass website or sign up for each individual event.

The Future of Civic Hacking

My absolute favorite outcome of these events is getting citizens talking with civil servants. That is the magic–connecting people together around topics they are deeply passionate about. And this year will be no different. While we will continue with the unconference format, we are trying something new this year.

In February, Code for Raleigh leadership met with the Wake County Innovation Team to review the 75 priorities designated by Wake County Commissioners. Through a collaborative process, we made a short list, then found stakeholders for a few of the priorities where we thought Code for Raleigh could help. The three challenges we are preparing in partnership with Wake County for the fall event series are:

  • Parks and Rec park finder — an app to find all the parks and greenways across the Triangle, including programs and amenities in all municipalities
  • Not just a flu-shot finder — an app for you can search where to get flu shots and expand the capabilities to include other health-related needs such as finding narcan and prescription drop-off locations
  • Business development diversity accelerator — looking at ways to help minority and underrepresented people turn their business ideas into actual businesses by providing resources to streamline the business-creation process

This is an exciting partnership between citizens and government. We are working collaboratively, solving problems together for our community. We plan on using the NC Open Pass events to build teams to supplement the work needed to accomplish these projects. Essentially, we are building a citizen-government planned project sprint to help engage citizens to chip in and advance each of these projects.

I think it’s awesome that the Wake County Innovation Team views the event series we’ve established under NC Open Pass as a way to get direct citizen feedback, participation, and involvement. This is how we make civic tech projects sustainable. And these partnerships are key. Being partners with the City of Raleigh, Wake County, and many others is what makes our civic tech community vibrant and exciting.

This is the future of civic hacking, and we’ve only just begun.


 January 2011 — SeeClickFix launches in Raleigh, NC
 February 2011 — Interview with Raleigh Mayor about open source cities
 March 2011 — Tweets between Bonner Gaylord and Jason Hibbets
 April 2011 — Citizens gather at Helios Cafe to start planning CityCamp Raleigh
 June 2011 — First CityCamp Raleigh held at Vintage and The Stockroom
 June 2011 — Team “Open it up” wins first CityCamp Raleigh hackathon
 June 2011 — City of Raleigh named finalist for 2012 Code for America fellowship
 August 2011 — First CityCamp Raleigh meet-up held
 November 2011 — Second CityCamp Raleigh meet-up held

 January 2012 — Startup ArchiveSocial launches out of Durham
 February 2012 — City of Raleigh passes open government resolution
 March 2012 — Open Data Day event: Raleigh’s Creative District Wiki Day held at Red Hat on Centennial Campus
 May 2012 — City of Raleigh launches
 June 2012 — Second CityCamp Raleigh held at AIA; entire City Council attends
 June 2012 — RGreenway wins CityCamp Raleigh hackathon
 September 2012 — City of Raleigh publishes first open data sets; request citizen and business feedback
 October 2012 — Code for Raleigh established
 October 2012 — White House CTO & Innovation Fellows pitch their work around Open Data to North Carolina leading to the formation the first NC DataPalooza organizing team
 November 2012 — Code for Raleigh launches Adopt-a Bus Shelter
 December 2012 — Code for Raleigh hosts Raleigh Civic-athon Day

 February 2013 — First open data sets available from the Town of Cary
 February 2013 — Cary Open Data Day; Interest to form Code for Cary and Code for Durham sparked during the event
 March 2013 — CityCamp Raleigh becomes CityCamp NC
 March 2013 — City of Raleigh launches open data portal
 March 2013 — Code for Cary established
 April 2013 — First NC DataPalooza DataJam held where Deputy CTO of the White House Nick Sinai is the keynote speaker
 April 2013 — Code for Durham established
 May 2013 — The foundation for an open source city book released
 May 2013 — First CityCamp NC held at the James B. Hunt Jr. Library on the NC State University Campus
 May 2013 — Local library team wins first CityCamp NC
 August 2013 — Open Raleigh recognized by Public Technology Institute (PTI) for innovative application of Web 2.0 technologies and civic/social media tools for their open data initiative
 September 2013 — First NC DataPalooza finale held at NC Museum of Science
 September 2013 — The Parking App Development Team wins first NC DataPalooza
 October 2013 — City of Raleigh CIO, Gail Roper, and Code for Raleigh Brigade Captain, Jason Hibbets present City spotlight: Raleigh at Code for America Summit in San Francisco, CA
 November 2013 — City of Raleigh 2013 Digital Cities Survey Finalist

 January 2014 — Startup Citizen launches out of Raleigh, NC
 February 2014 — First Triangle Open Data Day held at NC State Centennial Campus hosted by Code for Cary
 April 2014 — Second NC DataPalooza DataJam held at HQ Raleigh
 May 2014 — Second CityCamp NC held at William Peace University hosted by Code for Raleigh
 May 2014 — FreeWheeling NC team wins CityCamp NC hackathon
 May 2014 — Triangle Startup Weekend Health DataJam held at HQ Raleigh
 May 2014 — City of Raleigh receives 2013–2014 Technology Solutions Award — honorable mention by Public Technology Institute for their open data portal built by Jason Hare
 July 2014 — City of Raleigh CIO, Gail Roper, and Code for Raleigh Brigade Captain, Jason Hibbets present How does Raleigh use open source? at OSCON in Portland, Ore.
 September 2014 — Second NC DataPalooza finale held at HQ Raleigh
 September 2014 — Team Stone Soup wins second NC DataPalooza

 February 2015 — Wake County BETA open data portal available
 February 2015 — City and County of Durham launches open portal
 February 2015 — Second Triangle Open Data Day held at NC State Centennial Campus hosted by Code for Cary
 May 2015 — Third NC DataPalooza DataJam held at American Underground @Main
 May 2015 — City and County of Durham awarded 2015 PTI Technology Solutions Award goes to the for their open data portal built by Jason Hare
 June 2015 — Wake County open data portal announced at CityCamp NC
 June 2015 — Third CityCamp NC held at HQ Raleigh and Wake County Commons hosted by Code for Raleigh
 June 2015 — New cartographers win CityCamp NC hackathon
 July 2015–2015 Digital Counties Award goes to the County of Durham for the Open Data Program
 September 2015 — Third NC DataPalooza finale held at Red Hat Annex
 September 2015 — Team Open 511 wins third NC DataPalooza

 January 2016 — Town of Cary launches Open Data portal
 February 2016 — NC Open Pass launched (Partnership established between CityCamp NC organizers and NC DataPalooza organizers)
 February 2016 — Third Triangle Open Data Day held at NC State Centennial Campus hosted by Code for Cary
 March 2016 — Bloomberg Philanthropies selected Raleigh into its “What Works Cities” program
 June 2016 — National Day of Civic Hacking “Sprints for All” held at Caktus Group hosted by Code for Durham
 August 2016 — Code for NC Brigades meet in Greensboro, NC
 September 2016 — Fourth CityCamp NC held at Church on Morgan hosted by Code for Raleigh
 September 2016 — Fourth NC DataPalooza DataJam during CityCamp NC
 September 2016 — Chapel Hill launches open data portal
 November 2016 — Fourth NC DataPalooza finale held at Red Hat Annex
 November 2016 — Team New Cartographers wins fourth NC DataPalooza
 December 2016 — Town of Wake Forest launches open data portal

 February 2017 — Code for Raleigh and CityCamp NC planners meet with Wake County Innovation Team to determine which county objectives to work on
 February 2017 — SeeClickFix launches in Chapel Hill
 March 2017 — Code for Raleigh hosts strategy meet-up to gather feedback on project priorities
 April 2017 — Raleigh launches IdeaRaleigh competition to crowdsource
 ideas for innovative projects or solutions
 May 2017 — Durham selected by Bloomberg Philanthropies into its “What Works Cities” program
 July 2017 — Open Durham federates all data with Data.Gov
 August 2017 — Code for Raleigh hosts feedback session with Mayor and City Councilors
 August 2017 — Civic Spark Day held at Caktus Group, hosted by Code for Durham
 September 2017 — Fifth CityCamp NC held at HQ Raleigh and Church on Morgan
 November 2017 — Fifth NC DataPalooza finale held at HQ Raleigh

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