GovHack 2014

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By Brian Davies

This year’s GovHack ran in July and the @GovHackAU Twitter feed tells us, “more than 1300 programmers, designers, students and other inquisitive folk took part in this year’s weekend-long hackathon”.

GovHack allows professionals, students, hobbyists and the general public alike to come up with some engaging ways to present government data to the public, such as by way of computer software, interactive websites, mobile phone and tablet apps, etc. According to GovHack, “Governments collect and publish enormous amounts of data, but have limited resources to get it into the hands of their citizens in engaging ways. GovHack is an event to draw together people from government, industry, academia and of course, the general public to mashup, reuse, and remix government data. GovHack is about finding new ways to do great things and encouraging open government and open data.”

“As part of its commitment to transparency and accessibility and also in the spirit of good fun, the City of Melbourne is participating in this year’s GovHack competition.” In the press release Knowledge City Councillor Dr Jackie Watts went on to say, “Currently we have over 70 Council-owned data sets for anyone to freely view and download and we’re looking forward to seeing what innovative and creative ideas come out of this weekend.”

Data sets from the City of Melbourne include:

Building accessibility data

Information on over 70,000 trees managed by the City of Melbourne

Information from parking sensors

Data from our network of pedestrian counters

Data showing the gradient of footpaths across the municipality

The judging criteria set out in the Competition Rules & Code of Conduct reads as follows:

Judging Criteria

Teams are required to submit the following as part of their competition entry:

A descriptive project page, listing their team members, details about their project, what data sets they used and what competition categories (local and national) that they are going for

Outcomes from the project itself (any code, graphics, mashups, applications, website URLs, etc) which must all be made available under an open source/content licence to be eligible for prizes. If judges are able to see and play with it that is useful, but this is a minor component of the judging. Teams can put the code/source on GitHub, Sourceforge or an equivalent repository system and must make the URL available on their team page for verification.

A three minute pre-recorded video embedded on their project page in which they present their project. This could include the team talking about their project, a screencast of the project, and anything else appropriate for video. Check out the developer kit for some assistance and instruction on how to make a compelling video.

GovHack is a non-profit event proudly run by volunteers, and put together with support from the Australian Gov 2.0 community (#gov2au). There are various prizes for winners of different categories. The Competition Rules & Code of Conduct states, “Winners will be chosen by the GovHack competition judges. The judging panel for prizes will consist of a mix of GovHack organisers, government agency representatives and industry sponsors as appropriate for each prize”.

Having read through numerous GovHack forums and the Twitter feeds it seems the event is taken in good spirit as a challenge and a bit of fun by most participants and onlookers. On the opposing side, some believe GovHack is a way of ripping off developers, designers and other talented people to save the Government from inventing or commissioning better data delivery systems itself.

The Competition Rules and Code of Conduct states, “All code and APIs must be available under an appropriately open license that allows reuse, commercial use, remixing and redistribution. As the owner of the code you can of course fork that code and commercialise if you want, but to be eligible for the competition, the codebase and demonstration submitted must be open sourced.” This means that any submitted entries can be used by anyone (even at a later time), whether or not they are winning entries. Even a winning entry may not win a prize which reflects the true commercial value of the product.

My personal take on GovHack is that it really is run in the spirit of good fun and the bringing together of talented people.

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