Hacking is the impulse to engage with something and figure out how to make it work for you
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).