TPG Demo Day: Civic Hacking With the Future

What happens when a pandemic forces a father to find a better way to keep his teenage son occupied? For TPG Demo Day on August 21, we learned the origin story of how a father and son started hacking government APIs and building tools and visualizations where only raw data existed before. We got a live tour of the work from 15-year-old Elias, who presented with a level of skill and clarity beyond his years!

Elias Fretwell, a high school sophomore, was featured along with his dad Luke Fretwell in a 2023 Government Technology article about this work: A young civic hacker could be the next generation of Gov Tech. TPG members were thrilled to hear from a student presenter for Demo Day and to get the Fretwells’ perspective on the role of “civic hacking” in the public <> government relationship.

What is civic hacking?

To frame the conversation, we asked our audience – TPG members of various disciplines and backgrounds – to share their definition of the term “civic hacking.” Responses included:

“Using publicly available data and resources to help build products for everyone.”

“Using public data to tell a story or share information.”

“DIY technology fixes by community members for community issues.”

“Using data or tools that are publicly available to make something new / better.”

“A process of reimagining to generate tools / solutions  built on existing available infrastructure.”

Then we heard from Luke, whose background in civic technology spans over two decades. “It’s really just working and thinking outside the lines of the traditional roles of bureaucracy,” he said. “Ideally, it’s working with open data that’s easily accessible, using open source where possible, and working collaboratively with government officials in a very constructive way.”

Father/son coding adventures

After sharing the story of how they started coding together during the pandemic, Luke and Elias demonstrated the work that is available to explore on The site has tools and visualizations built on APIs, RSS, or static data from federal agencies like National Archives, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Census Bureau, Food and Drug Administration, National Park Service, and NASA.

Luke also shared ideas for building a better open data ecosystem and how everyone can use civic hacking as a way to inspire future generations to get excited about government and technology.

More about Luke and Elias

Luke Fretwell is the co-founder of ProudCity, a platform that supports local government digital services. He is the maintainer of GovFresh, where he writes about democracy and technology. He served as product designer for California’s Alpha team, a short-term innovation project by the State of California to re-imagine that served as the precursor to what is now the Office of Data and Innovation. A civic hacker at heart, projects he’s worked on include GovPress, CityCamp, and currently Proudly Serving, an open playbook to help local government agencies build people-centered digital services. 

Elias Fretwell is a San Francisco Bay Area high school sophomore who likes to draw, play piano and code. He first learned coding through Scratch, then taught himself Javascript so that he could build Minecraft mods. While in middle school, in collaboration with the local library, he organized Narwhal Coding, a program that taught Scratch to kids aged 7-12. He started civic hacking during COVID after learning about APIs and government open data. His civic hacking work is on display at

Show your work at TPG Demo Day

The Demo Day series allows our members and the larger civic tech community to share ground-breaking work and lessons learned. Demo Days inspire new ideas and deeper connections for TPG members. We regularly feature:

For future Demo Days – we welcome your input! If you would like to showcase your work or nominate someone to present at a TPG Demo Day, ping us in TPG Slack: #tpg-committee or email:

Article by Melinda Burgess, TPG Community Leads Committee, 2023