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CodeAcross Toronto: Community collaboration in celebration of International Open Data Day

What happens when you mix together 100 Torontonians who share an interest in making their city more prosperous, sustainable and equitable, nine challenging civic problems, and a liberal helping each of technology, design and data? You get CodeAcross Toronto 2016, a hackathon hosted by Civic Tech Toronto and Urban+Digital joining other communities across Canada in celebration of International Open Data Day.

Check out the video recap from the day below and read on for more about this exciting event.

It was a bright, cold March Saturday as designers, coders, urban planners, government staff, mappers, policymakers, students, communications strategists, and others joined together at Ryerson University’s Digital Media Zone.

CodeAcross Toronto, Civic Tech Toronto’s first hackathon, was organized by a dedicated team of volunteers to provide a space for citizens to and collaborate on specific real-world civic tech challenges brought forward by organizations and community groups, meet new people, and to learn and build new things.

After opening remarks from Ontario Member of Provincial Parliament Yvan Baker and Toronto City Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, participants had the opportunity to work on one of nine diverse civic challenges. Challenges included helping the Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services use mapping to discover correlations between outcomes for youth in Ontario, and enabling users to more easily find accurate, reliable public legal education materials with The Action Group on Access to Justice. Whether they were analyzing data, designing user interfaces or developing application flows, teams worked closely with organizations like Rexdale Lab, Project Neutral and the Mississauga Halton Local Health Integration Network to apply their skills and knowledge to helping produce public good.

At the end of the day, participants reported back on their progress, eliciting rave reviews from the challenge owners with whom they had been working for just over six hours. Feel free to check out the videos of the CodeAcross Toronto 2016 report backs on YouTube.

“I was impressed by the diversity of the participants’ skills and perspectives,” remarked Katie Harper, director of Project Neutral. “In just a few hours, they contributed valuable new insights as well as validated the work we had already been doing. It was an excellent investment of our time and I hope there are more opportunities to work with this great community.”

“Even though we’ve been doing this for the last five years in some capacity… the amount of new information and new avenues… that came out of today were fantastic,” said Sandy Rao, one of the challenge sponsors from the Mississauga Halton Local Health Integration Network, “It’s been an incredible day, I can’t wait to continue this conversation.”

Thanks to Civic Tech Toronto’s weekly hacknights, the conversations and projects started at CodeAcross Toronto can continue well beyond the one-day hackathon itself.

Some of the highlights for CodeAcross Toronto participants were meeting new people in different fields, learning new things, and having fun while working on challenges that are of interest. An overwhelming number of participants felt the day was a good use of their time, where they learned something new from a diverse team. All participants who responded to the CodeAcross Toronto evaluation survey said they would attend CodeAcross again, and would recommend their friends come too.

As one participant put it: “CodeAcross Toronto is made up of great people, great ideas, great dedication, great community.”

These exciting outcomes would not have been possible without the generous support of the Government of Ontario, Microsoft Canada and Make Web Not War, Brookfield Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, City of Toronto Open Data, as well as the dedicated crew of volunteers that made CodeAcross Toronto happen: Alex Lougheed, Irene Quarcoo, Meghan Hellstern, Gabe Sawhney, Charles Finley, Mari Zhou, Dorothy Eng, Lia Milito, Henrik Bechmann, Yousaf Shah, Andrea Hamilton, Dawn Walker, Grace Wu and Shabs.

Special thanks to the challenge teams: those mentioned above, as well as the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, the City of Toronto’s open data team, Toronto Councilmatic, and the Lobbyist Registry team. Check out photos from the day in the slideshow below.

CodeAcross Toronto 2016

So what’s next?

It’s safe to say at this point that Toronto has a fledgling but flourishing civic tech scene, joining many other cities around the world in helping bring the power of technology, design and data to bear on solving public problems.

If you’d like to be a part of this growing community, there’s no shortage of ways to get involved:

So get out there and, as one CodeAcross Toronto participant put it, “meet the people who care, learn the things that matter, build the stuff that helps” by getting involved in your local civic tech community today.

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