This blog is written by one of 15 individuals attending the South By Southwest Conference in Austin with the intention to bring back ideas and to reimagine Richland County.

At South By Southwest you meet some of the best people when you’re waiting in line or when you attend a session you were not planning to go to.

On Friday I had that very moment when I walked into a session titled "Civic Hackathons," which was presented by Sarah Sharif, the Founder and CEO of Experimental Civics.

Nikki Lewis

Let me start by introducing you all to a couple terms, for those that are unfamiliar. A "hacker" is someone who solves problems in a clever way, typically with technology. No, I’m not talking about the person that is sitting by their computer trying to get your information, but someone using their skills for good.

And a "hackathon" is an event, typically lasting several days, in which a large number of people meet to engage in collaborative problem solving, traditionally focused around technology.

I was introduced to the term hackathon a few months ago, but never truly understood it until Sarah opened the door to civic hackathons. Civic hackathons are an idea playground, a place to empower people, elevate ideas and provide a space to act.

The idea behind this is to invite community members, community leaders, and everyone in between to come together to find a solution to a Richland County problem that is presented to them. The problem could be anything from traffic concerns, clean air, public safety, zero waste, sustainability, saving the bees, education, accessibility or homelessness.

Here was the best thing: Anyone can hack. You don’t learn to hack by listening, you learn to hack by doing. What better way to learn to hack then to jump right in and do it?

And that is what I want to bring to our community. I want to provide a place where our community members can be part of the solution. When you are involved, you take ownership in your community, there is this sense of pride you cannot get anywhere else.

The definition of community is a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests and goals. What better way to bring everyone together then to provide this platform?

So I pose this question to the community: What is the biggest challenge for Richland County?

What problem do you think we could tackle with a hackathon? How do you think you could help? Do you have computing skills? Would you be a great mentor? Or do you have a voice that has yet to be heard?

Let's make a difference. People + Ideas + Action = Change. 

Stay tuned and follow the progress via #SXSW419. And watch for more blogs at richlandsource.com/rising_from_rust/sxsw.

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South by Southwest Conference Blogger

Chamber Foundation Manager for the Richland Area Chamber of Commerce. Her focus is to educate in areas relating to economics, leadership and entrepreneurship. She is a transplant to the community and is excited to be part of helping Richland County grow.