Harvard’s #Hack4Congress tries to hack the government back into the hearts of American people

Image courtesy #Hack4Congress
Image courtesy #Hack4Congress

For the 56th time on Tuesday, House Republicans voted to repeal Obamacare. It was just the latest round of futile political posturing for a Republican-led Congress that just barely passed Keystone Pipeline legislation and failed in its efforts to prevent Obama’s executive orders on immigration.

Congress’s struggles to connect with the public or, frankly, do anything at all, is hardly new. The last time that congressional approval ratings were above 30 percent was in 2009.

Which is where last week’s Harvard Kennedy School and the OpenGov Foundation’s Hackathon, #Hack4Congress, comes in. The goal of the Hackathon was to “create common-sense solutions that would make the U.S. Congress more efficient, effective, and accountable to citizens.”

“The event was borne out of a concern that a lot of reform organizations are working in the area of trying to replace government with technology,” said Maggie McKinley, one of the organizers of the event and a fellow at the Ash Center at Harvard University. “We wanted to have an event where folks could work on how to fix government and make government work better by using technology.”

The overall winner of the event, which drew over 150 people, was Team Hillhack. Their proposal, Connect Congress, is a platform in which facilitates face-to-face conversations with congressman through meeting requests, tutorials for those meetings, and opportunities to connect with other constituents who might share the same advocacy goals.

There were five major challenge categories for the event, each of which focused on improving an aspect of American democracy. Those categories were Improving the Lawmaking Process, Facilitating Cross-Partisan Dialogue, Modernizing Congressional Participation, Closing the Representation and Trust Gaps, and Reforming Campaign Finance. The winning team, Hillhack, was in the Closing the Representation and Trust Gap category.

The winners will be invited to present their projects to lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

McKinley sees this as one of the major motivating factors for this Hackathon. “The big point of this event was to really involve lawmakers in the event to make sure that these solutions are not only technically cool but also something that will get used,” she said.