Cass, me, Flick, Kathryn, Jeff, Jane and Pav

In July I entered the GovHack 2015 hackathon with Cass and her colleagues from the Department of Education and Training.

More than 2300 people across Australia and Zealand participated. In 46 hours we worked with data custodians and open data sets from local, state and federal governments to create innovative projects and demonstrate the value of open government data.

Meet the data owners

One week before GovHack an event was held at Melbourne Town Hall for us hackers to meet the data owners. The custodians of the official data sets each gave a three-minute presentation of their data then stayed for questions.

Lorraine Tighe from the City of Melbourne presented their open data platform. Steve Bennett from NICTA then impressed with a demonstration of NationalMap, a website for map-based access to spatial data from Australian government agencies. I spoke with Brad Petry from the Crime Statistics Agency who explained how their six-month-old agency was improving crime data with better taxonomies and making it accessible.

Friday

The next event was at the ThoughtWorks office where we would be hacking for the next two days. The Melbourne hosts Jordan Wilson-Otto and Lachlan Musicman welcomed us before GovHack was launched for Australia and New Zealand. I was impressed with the effort they had put into being inclusive, providing vegan catering, on-site childcare, a clear code of conduct and an apology for the binary-gendered bathrooms.

At 7 PM GovHack 2015 began with the announcement of the official data sets and potential prizes. We met as a team and decided what our project was going to be. The idea for our project came from Jane’s four-year-old daughter Zaya who wanted to go to a park with a pirate ship.

Cass and Kathryn then researched data sets and tested our idea with Megan Vassarotti and Jithma Beneragama from the Department of Premier and Cabinet Victoria while Pav and I made a prototype website using GitHub Pages.

Saturday

We met back at ThoughtWorks the next morning with Zaya joining us on-site. I taught our team the basics of agile development, starting with a kanban wall and following with pivoting as we encountered numerous data quality issues.

While Megan helped connect us with data owners willing to assist us on a Saturday Jane remediated one of our data sets by manually entering GPS coordinates for each record. Flick illustrated our Pick-A-Park app, Jeff filmed us working, Pav iterated our website, Cass and Kathryn settled on data sets and I learned how to use ArcGIS and QGIS.

At 3:30 PM everyone on-site stopped for a status update. We didn’t have a viable product yet but Kathryn presented a confident update that captured a lot of attention. After some more work we headed home and stayed in contact using Slack.

Sunday

As I finished preparing the data and developing the search function on Sunday morning Flick helped another team with designing their website. Jeff helped team EZRego record their video.

I drew the minimum viable Pick-A-Park on our whiteboard, a simple webapp that enables you to search for nearby parks by their facilities. Flick, Pav and I then finished developing it. Jane wrote the script for our video and Jeff filmed it while Cass wrote our team website and submitted us for several prizes. We finished with less than an hour to spare.

At 5 PM we all presented our work. My favourite project was Postcode Battle and my favourite video was from the Road Warriors. Jordan and Lachlan then awarded Flick and Jeff with spirit prizes for helping others.

Melbourne awards night

Six weeks later we were invited back for the Melbourne awards night. We had tried and failed to manage Jane’s expectations who was certain we would win prizes.

Fiona Dowsley from the Crime Statistics Agency shared her experience at GovHack Ballarat then awarded us the Victorian Government’s prize for exploring what Victoria has to offer.

Trish Spiteri from MAV Technology then awarded us their only prize which was for the best use of data to improve Victorian local government services (or access to services). This award was arranged by Lisa Bennetto.

The Victorian premier Dan Andrews congratulated us followed shortly by the Department of Education and Training secretary Gill Callister.

The spirit of GovHack

The GovHack code of conduct states that GovHack should be an awesome experience for everyone. From the many volunteers, hackers and government data custodians through to the food and drinks my experience was exactly that.

Everyone on my team who wrote “dev” on their name tag had developed something by Saturday afternoon and by Sunday we had published an app. I’m proud of our team and grateful for the experience and prizes.