Inspiration

Austin residents are not set up to successfully interact and collaborate with our local government. From inaccessible meeting times to enormous PDFs, the majority of people have chosen to disengage and live entirely unaware of how the city operates.

But local government is where we have the most opportunity to create change, and Austinites are not part of the conversation. The Pulse of Austin exists to help people find and share their voice.

We are creating a way for residents to build civic confidence and begin collaborating with local government.

What it does

The Pulse of Austin gives residents a foundation of how local government works, showing them simple things like who their representative is and what district they live in. Next, we give Pulse users bite-sized updates on city-level projects and decisions happening around where they live, work, and spend their time. In this way, people begin to see how government functions related to their lives. From here, residents develop “civic confidence” and feel compelled to share their voice. Through either a simple poll or free text input, people can weigh in easily without having to attend inconvenient meetings or taking lengthy surveys. Finally, we are working closely with the City of Austin in order to shape opportunities that have the biggest potential for impact.

At ATX Hack for Change, we've been focusing on two main projects. One is an iOS app that offers the convenience of on-the-go learning and push notifications to alert residents of the latest happenings related to their interests. The second project is a website with all the content and weigh in opportunities a resident would need to feel confident and contribute to the conversation. The website was essential in order to give access to more people, expanding beyond Austinites with iOS devices.

How we built it

We have an awesome team of 12 people: 4 designers, 1 content creator, 1 iOS developer, 3 back-end developers, 2 front-end developers, and 1 strategist. For these two projects, we divided the developers into web and iOS and worked to create a shared database through Firebase. The designers collaborated with each other and delegated to design different key flows and sections of the web and app, then shared their work with the developers. There was a lot of back-and-forth to decipher what was feasible to accomplish in just ~20 hours.

Challenges we ran into

We were challenged in deciding how much detail and structure to bring into the hackathon. Since we have a well-developed iOS design, we decided to come in with the web platform completely fresh and undesigned. This was risky, but it really paid off. It gave our design team the opportunity to have a voice in shaping the project; everyone on the team feels ownership.

We were lucky in that we got an extremely strong backend team. They took the lead on creating the website structure while the designers crafted the web screens. Then, the developers were ready to move into front-end as the designers had the first round of wireframes ready to go. The synergy and collaboration was great.

Creating an entire web platform from scratch of course came with some snags. Some ideas for the information structure evolved as the design team worked through their piece of the puzzle, and what sometimes felt small actually resulted in more complex reconfiguring. "In about an hour, we can't do any more pivoting," were the kind and clear words from one member of the team.

Accomplishments that we're proud of

Our development team made sure to create a way that would give administrators access to the platform, so that we can continuously update content without needing to go through a developer. This is an essential tool for us to keep the information timely and dynamic.

We are proud that 12 of us (of which very few people knew each other ahead of time) were able to come together and collaborate so smoothly and productively. We rallied around The Pulse’s mission and experienced awesome momentum for the initiative.

What we learned

Collaboration can be fast. By structuring our work sessions with short check-ins and moments to work together and alone, we were able to accomplish a lot.

Information architecture is key to getting developers started while designers build the front-end. Having a strong idea of the high-level vision helped immensely with early productivity and bought time for designers to create and collaborate.

Specific terms within the apps can be confusing - consistency is essential.

We also learned to let go of some of the control the two of us co-founders have held onto for 8 months. Bringing new minds into the project was invigorating and boosted productivity immensely.

What's next for The Pulse of Austin

There is still a lot of development to be done on both the iOS app and the website. Primarily, we need to link the database up so that it’s collecting and rendering to the site. The team plans to keep working on this next week to make sure it’s up and running.

Additionally we need to start focusing on user adoption and getting this tool into the hands of more and more people. By having people actually use it, we can start to make better design decisions and grow the influence of our platform to create real change in the way plan projects and policy in the city.

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