The era of technology, creativity, and collaboration is upon us. It’s the age of the Civic Hackathon! Government has increasingly used this tool to bring young, tech savvy, and passionate professionals from all sectors to put their heads together to solve some of our nation’s toughest technological challenges.
Yet recently, Colorado became one of the first to take the Hackathon to the next level- statewide competition. Andrew Cole, Program Manager for the Go Code Colorado Challenge in the Colorado Secretary of State's Office, believes this event is more than a hackathon: it’s an “app challenge.” In an interview with Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program, Cole reminded us of the importance of such competitions and discussed the innovations born out of these types of challenges.
“If you’ve ever heard of civic hacking, it’s in that same vein, although we don’t call ourselves a hackathon. We call ourselves an app challenge,” said Cole. “The essential elements to Go Code Colorado are that we actually have a technical team that helps state agencies across state government in Colorado publish their public data to a single platform.”
This platform is called the “Colorado Information Marketplace” and can be found at data.colorado.gov. “We’re helping people publish public data in a central location in a usable format, a machine-readable format,” he said.
The teams were asked to help people be more informed in decision-making through better access to public data. Ultimately, three winners were picked for their challenge and got their apps licensed for a year. This year, each of the winning teams also received $25,000. “The goal is to create some more sustainability and have folks who launch into businesses that are using open data,” said Cole.
So why go through all this trouble when there’s the government procurement process?
When asked, Cole replied, “I think that government procurement exists for a good reason, to make sure that the government gets good value and that there’s an open and honest competition. But we’ve seen very public displays of huge IT infrastructure projects that don’t work.” Govie readers, I’m sure we can all agree with this point, yes?
“We really think that public data and access to public data is a value and something that we should be providing,” said Cole. “But we had a chicken and egg problem where state agencies may not have seen that value. And we also have a very robust and great tech and startup community in Colorado, but I don’t think many of those people knew that public data was something they could use.”
If you’re not rearing to join an app challenge or even launch one for your own government workplace by now, perhaps the winning projects will convince you.
Just last year, the first place team that won the Go Code Colorado Challenge was called “Beaglescore.” The team addressed the business challenge of selecting site location by creating a website where you can find the most ideal place to do business.
The “Beagle” will fetch dozens of data types and sources based on infrastructure, neighborhood and surrounding competition, regulations, and taxes. Beagle will then rate a location and give a snapshot of how your business in Colorado would do there.
I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty impressed. Wouldn’t an app like that be immensely useful for every state to have? Let’s look at the ideas that emerged from some of the finalist teams of this year’s challenge:
Quizata: Generates tourism data through identity-driven content creation.
Exit Now: Helps reduce traffic during peak times as well as weather or incident-induced slow periods by utilizing real time CDOT and other data, as well as predictive analysis. Exit Now achieves this by enabling businesses to provide coupons or discounts to motorists giving them financial incentives—based on triggers such as location, weather, and traffic—to delay their travel itinerary until a less-congested time.
Mentor Matter: Provides a platform to connect mentors with students using data to find intersections of students, industry experts, and career professionals
What’s great about the hackathon and its now more advanced counterpart, the app challenge, is that they not only help government address difficult and complex issues on the local, state, and federal level, but also tap into civilian creativity. They bring people together from all professions toward common goals in improving public service.
Okay, we know they’re not going to fix all our problems in government. And these challenges and hackathons certainly can’t replace our beloved acquisitions and procurement processes. But for government, as Cole said, “We should seriously start to look at these smaller IT projects.”
Improving government services sometimes calls for serious innovation and outside-the-box thinking. National Day of Civic Hacking is coming up on June 6, where thousands of people across the country from all walks of life will come together to build new solutions using public data, technology, and design processes to improve communities and the governments that serve them. The Go Code Colorado Challenge team came up with a fabulous tagline: “Build apps, build business, build Colorado.”
So, in light of this, I ask you - How can you use your community to improve government services? Ready to make it more than just a hackathon? My challenge for you is to get out of your comfort zone and go build apps, build business, and better government.