The open-source, maker/hacker, DIY ethic is a driver of innovation and civic engagement.

To hack is to engage with something and figure out how to make it work for you. It involves pushing boundaries, breaking a few rules, trying out something new, remixing, modifying, creating.

Underlying this is a sense of agency: of people learning to see themselves as creators rather than consumers. As citizens. Hackers, makers, and people with DIY attitudes don’t shrug their shoulders and walk away from problems — they say “Let me see that!” and keep at it until they find a solution. Sometimes that might involve duct tape.

Most civic technology and open data initiatives have emerged from this ethos and from environments (read: innovation spaces) that promote interaction and experimentation. They’ve emerged from collaborations between developers, designers, and activists — people with a vision for the future, passionate about ideas, communities, and better government.

Credits: Beth Kolko got me thinking about this when I listened to her talks at Harvard’s Berkman Center (here and here). Ethan Zuckerman has a wonderful summary of Beth’s January 2012 talk on his blog. I also see Andrew Schrock has also written about this recently (here and here).

1 Comment

  1. Andrew Schrock
    July 4, 2012

    Thanks for the shout-out Christine. Beth’s work is very inspirational and I am trying something similar at the Annenberg Innovation lab this fall ( I do think it comes back to agency, which is one response to the idea of “hacker literacies.” To me it’s about an approach or mindset that is encouraged in social learning contexts. These concepts are really helping to flesh out relationships with technology under modernity, not viewing hacking exclusively as political (Gabriella Coleman) or subversive (Doug Thomas among others).