Agencies see their data put to the test at GovHack

By Shannon Jenkins

Wednesday September 4, 2019

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This weekend, thousands of thinkers and creators from across Australia and New Zealand will solve public problems using open government data in the annual GovHack competition.

The free event will run across 30 different regional, national and international locations, with $85,000 up for grabs. 

While the experience helps participants develop new skills, it also allows government agencies to better understand their data by giving them a “fresh set of eyes”, according to GovHack ACT State Director Julian Singh.

“It’s like when someone is proofreading your assignment,” he told The Mandarin.

Sponsoring agencies send a data mentor to the event every year. When competitors download the open data and work on solving social, economic, and environmental challenges, they can ask agency mentors questions about how the data is used, if it can be connected with data from other agencies, or any other issues they might find with the data during the competition. These types of questions can be extremely beneficial to the agencies, Singh says.

This year, the ACT event will be held at the Australian National University, where it all began 10 years ago. Several special guests will be attending the opening night in celebration of the milestone, including local MP Gordon Ramsay, a chief digital officer from the ACT government and some participants from the first ever event.

A range of interesting and innovative projects have come out of past competitions, according to Singh.

One notable project used data to look for potential locations in Noosa where hydro-dams could be built, while another converted the Welcome to Country ritual to local languages from across Australia. A 2014 winner built software that has since become one of the top selling iOS weather apps in Australia, called RainParrot. 

One project — which devised a way to optimise ACT bus routes — has actually been utilised by Transport Canberra. 

Singh adds that the one-of-a-kind event wouldn’t be possible without the hard work put in by dedicated volunteers every year.

“It’s the longest running event of its type in Australia, possibly the world,” he said.

GovHack runs from the 6th-8th September.

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