Changing the World from GitHub: 15 Open-Code Initiatives That Drive Social Change

agile development tools

Technology has the power to revamp our societies in previously unimaginable ways through easier access to information, greater transparency and increased public awareness.

Sometimes it's the government, and sometimes it’s the citizens that take charge.

If you look at GitHub, it has 981 government and civil society accounts, and 119 of them are classified as "civic hackers", with 100+ repositories belonging to government-sponsored research organizations.

We picked some interesting projects that could be viewed as paragons and serve as inspiration to others. 

1.  Write It by Ciudadano Inteligente  

Account: Ciudadano Inteligente (Intelligent Citizen)  
Country: Chile 
The # People: 10
Project: Write It

Write It is a platform that allows any citizen to get in touch with any government official in a variety of ways. Inspired by its British counterpart, Write to Them, Write It brings transparency and ease of civic communication to Chile and beyond. 

The project is part of the larger POPLUS initiative, which is an international collaborative effort to fight corruption and give citizens the tools to affect government decisions. 

2.  Vota Inteligente (Vote Intelligently) by Ciudadano Inteligente

Account: Ciudadano Inteligente (Intelligent Citizen)
Country: Chile 
The # People: 10
Project: Vota Inteligente Portal Electoral

Vota Inteligente Portal Electoral ("Vote Intelligently" Electoral Portal) is another project maintained by Ciudadano Inteligente whose goal is to provide greater transparency into the candidates’ information during electoral campaigns.

3. E-Government of Ukraine

Account: iGov - E-Government of Ukraine
Country: Ukraine 
The # People: 9
Project: iGov

iGov is an online portal created by Ukrainian activists who are committed to fighting corruption and increasing transparency in the country. The project has gotten 41,776 commits so far, and, judging by its busy Facebook group, has quite a traction in the local developer community.

4. LocalRoute by HSL

Account: Helsinki Regional Transport Authority (HSL) Developer Community
Country: Finland 
The # People: 21
Projects: DigiTransit UI , DigiTransit Website, LocalRoute 

These projects by HSL community of developers are called to make it easier for local commuters (people using local public transportation) to travel in Finland, Sweden, and possibly beyond. The LocalRoute functionality calculates pubic transport routes on web browsers and mobile devices both online and offline.

Although the website is still in beta, this could be an interesting solution for transportation authorities in any country, since HSL developers have put together a nice technology stack that consists of their own projects and some useful technologies they have forked over at GitHub.

5. FixMyStreet by mySociety 

Account: mySociety
Country: United Kingdom 
The # People: 20
Project:  FixMyStreet

The goal of FixMyStreet is to help people run websites for reporting common street problems such as potholes and broken street lights to the appropriate authority. Essentially, it is report-mapping software that can be used for purposes other than reporting street problems – theoretically, it would fit any project that needs to match geographic points to email addresses.

6. EveryPolitician by mySociety

Account: EveryPolitician
Country: United Kingdom 
The # People: 5
Project: EveryPolitician

EveryPolitician is technically a political "Wikipedia" that contains information on every possible politician in the world. The platform is currently looking for contributors who can suggest new data sources, write scrapers, and help fill in the information gaps. 

Although the service is managed through EveryPolitician’s account on GitHub, it is backed the mySociety group of hacktivists. 

7. Mobile Canberra by ACT Government

Account: Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Government 
Country: Australia 
The # People: 1 
Project: Mobile Canberra

Mobile Canberra is a joint initiative by ACT Government and Australian eGOV Cluster to provide a platform for showing points of interest and services around Canberra. Platform users can access information such as bus stops, public restrooms, schools, libraries on their smartphones via an app (Android or iOS).

The mobile app was developed by Imagine Team and the code is distributed on GitHub under the MIT license. 

8.  Intranet for City of Malmö Employees

Account: Malmö Stad
Country: Sweden 
The # People: 4 
Project: Intranet Dashboard

Intranet Dashboard is a humble-looking, yet powerful platform that could be used by any organization to provide employees with news and instruments based on their roles/preferences. The dashboard also allows to maintain a staff directory with searchable employee information, which employees can edit themselves. 

The project has received 1,256 commits and is being offered under AGPL-3.0 license.

9. Adopt a Hydrant – Citizen’s Initiative

Account: Code for America
Country: United States 
The # People: 111
Project: Adopt a Hydrant

Adopt a Hydrant is a web application that allows citizens to "adopt" civic infrastructure, such as fire hydrants that need to be shoveled out after it snows. Potentially, there could be other uses for this project such as adopting other public facilities.

10. Textizen by Code for America

Account: Code for America
Country: United States 
The # People: 111
Project: Textizen
Textizen is a platform that allows local governments and civic organizations to collect feedback, opinions and insights from people via SMS surveys. Used by City of Philadelphia, City of Paolo Alto and similar groups, Textizen is helping administrations make better-informed decisions. 

11. Project Whitehall by UK Government Digital Service

Account: Government Digital Service
Country: United Kingdom 
The # People: 56
Projects: Whitehall, Single SignOn 

"Whitehall" is the code name for the Inside Government project, which is a web portal that gives different UK Government departments online presence. For instance, citizens can browse available primary schools and file online applications, get a passport or a driver’s license on the Web.

With close to 20,000 commits, Whitehall is one of the most admired government-backed open software projects on GitHub. It is provided under MIT license.

A part of this initiative is Signon - an OAuth2 based single sign-on system for government services that provides username/password and 2-Factor authentication.

12. Smart Answers by UK Government Digital Service

Account: Government Digital Service
Country: United Kingdom 
The # People: 123
Projects: Smart Answers

Smart Answers is another great technology by GDS. Answers to legislative questions are often complex and long-winded. It’s not unusual for one to ends up with a paragraph that reads something like "if this then that, except when that, and not before this, but maybe because of that, except if you're this…[with extra caveats added]."

This is when Smart Answers steps in. It's a framework that allows users to home in on a clear and non-contradictory answer to a complex legal/financial question. The algorithm is being used to build tools such as maternity/paternity allowance calculator, and others.

13.  The Federal Election Commission CMS

Account: 18F (a subdivision of the US General Service Administration) 
Country: USA 
The # People: 194
Project:  FEC CMS

As the Federal Election Commission (FEC) strives to provide US citizens with more information on the funds raised and spent by each candidate during the Federal Elections, it open-sourced its CMS system that is now available on GitHub with copyright rights released through CC0 universal public domain dedication.

14. CyberChef by GCHQ

Account: GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters)
Country: United Kingdom 
The # People: 15
Project: CyberChef

CyberChef is an intuitive web application for data encryption, encoding, compression and analysis. It allows you to carry out all sorts of operations (creating hexdumps, calculating hashes and checksums, IPv6 and X.509 parsing, and much more) according to a particular "recipe". You can also save and reload recipes as needed. 

The main purpose of this tool is to enable analysts to crunch data in sophisticated ways without having to deal with complex tools or algorithms.   

15. Equity by Series Seed

Account: Series Seed
Country: United States 
The # People: 2
Project: Equity

Equity is an interesting project that helps entrepreneurs raise seed capital for their startups. The repository contains a package of legal documents one needs to organize a quick investment round.

The materials are open-sourced with CC0 license.

Know another interesting open-source project that pertains to civil society? Fell free to share the link in comments