Civic Hack Day

A youth-driven, community hack day to celebrate the 2013 National Day of Civic Hacking.

Duration of Project: April 2013 – June 2013
Organization: Adler Planetarium, Chicago
Audience: Two dozen Chicago-area youth and about twice as many adult STEM professionals.

Project Description

To celebrate and participate in the 2013 National Day for Civic Hacking, the Adler Planetarium held a Civic Hack Day where Chicago youth, mentors, and highly skilled STEM professionals worked together in teams towards solutions to issues most relevant to youth in Chicago. Youth team members brought problems with them that they, or members of their communities, faced on a daily basis, as well as a vision for a technological solution. Working with their mentors and the STEM professionals, they shaped and built working prototypes of their solutions over an awe-inspiring 28-hour period.

Throughout the weekend, the Adler also facilitated public programs inspired by the spirit of hacking and open workshops for young people to engage with cutting-edge tinkering technology like arduino microcontrollers, 3D design and printing, and more.

Civic Hack Day was an event for youth leaders, civic leaders, STEM professionals, creative thinkers, families, visitors and the generally curious.

The event was made possible through partnership with Mikva Challenge, Free Spirit Media, and The Chicago Architecture Foundation through the Hive Chicago Learning Network.

User-Centered Methodology

Hacker teams were assembled following inspiration from James Paul Gee, that human intelligence has evolved to function most effectively in a collaborative environment: No person hunts alone. Likewise, no hacker should make alone!

Each team was comprised of participants acting in one or more of the following roles:

Problem Owner

This person has a problem they need help solving and some vision for a solution. They are an engaged member of the community, personally impacted by the problem they bring and a direct stakeholder in the design and outcomes of the solution.

Domain Expert

This person is a legitimate, recognized and respected content expert with significant and authentic experience and/or membership in the context, environment, community, governance, industry or network where the problem resides.


This person is a designer, engineer, scientist, programmer, artist, technician, educator, tinkerer, carpenter, welder, tradesman, or any skills expert who can help the team create something new.


This person has what it takes to guide a young person or novice to make a meaningful contribution to the team. They should have strong enough professional experience and technical ability to be a Hacker themselves, as well as strong command of the teaching pedagogy needed to structure and scaffold the experience for young people and the ability to form a socioemotional connection with a young person.


This person is a creative content producer who will report on team accomplishments using digital and social media, [micro]blogs, or websites to tell a story about the team, their problem, and their progress towards a solution.

Project Manager

This person will manage the project deliverables, coordinate team roles and responsibilities, communicate progress and expectations, and keep team members focused on task.

The Adler engaged youth as essential and authentic stakeholders in the civic challenges taht hacker parties tackled in three primary roles: the problem-owner, a journalist or a domain-expert.

As problem-owners, youth were the central focus of the hacker party activity. However, the spirit of the Adler’s Civic Hack Day was not to “solve other people’s problems” but rather, to engage people and communities in the process of creating solutions and celebrating successes together if for no othre reason than that a good design is never created inside a vacuum, but rather, with the user and context in mind.

As domain-experts, youth can provide invaluable information about the affordances and constraints of the environment they live in, the community they identify with, the peers they call friends. Youth will bring expertise about their lives to bear on the solution design process.

In order to identify youth problem-owners and domain experts, the Adler engaged Mikva Challenge to contribute existing youth-initiated, youth-vetted civic problems and domain expertise. Mikva Challenge has extensive experience raising youth voice to the civic stage, where they are heard by city officials and their peers alike, as in their 2013 Youth Solutions Congress where over 400 youth identified 15 strategic policy solutions.

Related Evidence & Artifacts

Check out this amazing trailer and full video – created by Chicago youth under the mentorship of Free Spirit Media – to document the Civic Hack Day:

You can see continued activity around Civic Hack Day at the Adler’s live site, which is updated for continued Civic Hack Days every year. The original 2013 site and the results of that event are still available as well generic levitra from india.

Civic Hack Day at the Adler was a prototype program for youth that has since evolved into Hive Chicago funded Youth Change Maker Initiative