Progress & Learning at the NC Reentry Resources Hub Hack Day

By Eric Jackson & Jason Marshall

On Saturday July 22 2017, over 20 people gathered together at the Nussbaum Center for Entrepreneurship in Greensboro. Meanwhile, halfway across North Carolina, another 7 people met at the Montford Recreation Complex in Asheville. Connected remotely, both groups worked together to build and improve upon the North Carolina Reentry Resources Hub.

The North Carolina Reentry Resources Hub is a website providing high-quality information and resources to residents reentering society after a period of incarceration, as well as those dealing with the consequences of a previous conviction. Last year Code for Asheville volunteers took the first steps by creating the initial version of the project, the Buncombe County Reentry Resources Hub site. Now, Code for Asheville and Code for Greensboro are partnering to expand the project to serve all 100 counties in North Carolina. As a multi-brigade collaboration, we are developing this open-source project under the banner of Code for North Carolina.

Live-streaming via Google hangouts, Jason Marshall, captain of Code for Greensboro, kicked off the event with an introduction to Code for America as an organization and provided a plan of action for the day. This was followed by an overview of the purpose and history of the Reentry Hub project from Eric Jackson, captain of Code for Asheville. To engage all volunteers, regardless of skillset, technical and non-technical teams were formed and focused on various project tasks.

The technical groups worked on bug fixes, feature development, deployment of the public site, design, and architecture for an interface that would fit the specialized needs of local content editors. The non-technical group, on the other hand, focused on usability testing and writing guidelines for website content and topics. For those that were interested in contributing code to the project, but still in the early stages of learning the project’s tech stack, Code for Greensboro set up a corner with tutorials to learn Git, Javascript, HTML, React, and GraphQL.

What Worked.

All-in-all the event was an awesome success.

Not only did participants help us make significant progress during the 3-hour event, but the activity and communication has continued on Github and Slack over the last couple weeks. Equally exciting, several new people have become engaged in the project and taken on longer-term tasks. The project now has a core group of contributors that are regularly collaborating to push the project forward. That gives a tremendous boost to the long-term growth and success of the project. Thank you all!

Another thing that worked well: using Google hangouts for shared presentation. The remote communication throughout the day achieved a sense of connectedness and participation in something bigger than ourselves. This worked especially well in Greensboro, where the livestream was up on a big screen. In Asheville the streaming laptop was co-opted for testing, although collaborations continued via Slack. Next time around we will definitely make sure we have larger screens on both ends.

What Worked … Less Well.

There were also a couple things that didn’t work so well.

Our attempt to set up Google Hangouts for collaborating on specific topics ended in general disarray. Fortunately, the collaborations via prepared Google docs and ad hoc Slack discussions kept things moving forward. We will definitely prioritize these over hangouts for the next event.

We could also have done a better job explaining some of the GitHub issues. Sometimes we over-specified how new features should be engineered when we weren’t actually clear ourselves, and on others we just failed to clearly state that we wanted the participants to fill in the blanks for themselves. It came out all right in the end, given the talented and engaged volunteers’ willingness to jump in and help us talk through and document a solution. We plan to continue to iterate on building and improving the open source community that is forming around this project.

Where From Here

We expect to launch the public site for NC Reentry Resources Hub and it’s back-end administrative tools in the early fall. If you’d like to play role in the project, reach out to one of us, or check out opportunities on the reentry project center.