CodeAcross Boston: Boston as a “Living Lab for Civic Technology”

| Kristen Weber, Communications Lead for Code for Boston

This past weekend at the MIT Media Lab in Cambridge, roughly 100 participants came together for the annual CodeAcross event. The event, which took place in nearly 60 cities across the US and in far-reaching places like Pakistan, Brazil, and Australia, brought together technologists, community members, and government and municipal workers for a weekend of collaboration, discussion, and coding.


Locally, Code for Boston collaborated with MassIT, the Commonwealth’s IT agency, on the two-day event. In his opening remarks, Bill Oates, Commonwealth CIO, reflected on his years at the City of Boston— where they approached the urban landscape as a living lab for civic technology. In his current role at the state, Oates is working to apply that same approach to scale civic technology projects at a broader level.

Teams formed and spent the remainder of the weekend working towards solutions to civic and community problems using special weekend access to MassIT’s open data pilot, MassData. During final presentations on Sunday, groups pitched their projects and solicited feedback from the crowd.

Unsurprisingly, weather and transit were topics at the forefront of the discussion and a variety of projects focused on solving these problems.

Three developers – David Lago, Geoffrey Litt, and Radhika Malik formed a team that built and launched, described as “Waze for the T,” a means of crowd-sourcing transit delay data and providing alternate routes from actual riders.

Addressing snow concerns, participants Rob Lundberg and Ari Roshko conducted a brainstorming and research session into the community culture surrounding parking space savers following snowstorms. “This is a community issue we’re trying to solve,” Lundberg said. “It’s more a sociological problem than a technical one.”

Dan Moore, Web Master for the City of Somerville presented his group’s project, an open 311 tracker for the city. “We want to be the Domino’s pizza tracker for 311 in Somerville,” Moore said. The project, called aims to more transparency to 311 data.

Smaller municipalities also contributed to the event as a team headed by Kendra Amaral, Assistant Town Manager and Director of Human Resources for the Town of Wilmington, MA created a cross-silo data integration application called the Property Dashboard. “We’re not all Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville,” Amaral said during her team’s presentation. “We don’t all have big IT departments but we still need access to this information.”

Additionally projects addressed a rating system for foster homes to empower the government to improve the foster system,, a community-powered repository that allows inventors to disclose inventions while addressing IP concerns.

In total, CodeAcross was a huge success thanks to the collaborative work of Code for Boston and MassIT and with the support of Microsoft New England and the MIT Media Lab. Mariko Davidson, open data lead and innovation fellow for MassIT summed it up, “From my perspective, CodeAcross provided an ideal opportunity for us to engage with Boston’s local civic innovation and technology community and foster open and proactive state government.”

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