July 11-12th saw the 3rd country-wide GovHack – a hackathon intended to bring together local, state and federal government data sets, and release them openly to designers, developers and storytellers to create mashups, websites and mobile applications for social good. Coordinated by the luminary Pia Waugh at a national level, and by the equally illustrious Fiona Tweedie at the Victorian level, the event saw over 1300 developers register at over a dozen sites across the nation.
Hosted in Melbourne by well-known agilistas Thoughtworks, over 100 Melbourne-based participants descended on Collins Street on Friday night, welcomed by warm dumplings and cold drinks. Proceedings were opened via video link, although Malcolm Turnbull’s cameo had a distinctly mixed reaction from the audience, with one or two comments of ‘where’s our #NBN??’ audible over the general buzz.
Thoughtworks’ IKEA-inspired workspace was ideal for the event, with lots of open space, collaborative open plan style desks and standup areas, and an open space for presentations. The stone-clad kitchen was well-stocked with goodies, and proved a prime example of space setting the tone and shaping the type of activities undertaken within it – as it become a focal point for collaboration throughout the night. The space had lots of walls for improvising Agile- and kanban-styled Post-It Note-based story boards, and was in close proximity to both good coffee (mandatory) and excellent Melbourne laneway food.
Teams either formed beforehand, or through an exercise run by Fiona on Friday night, which paired developers, designers, data visualisation gurus and data scientists together. Luckily the team I was in, Accessible Melbourne, had got in contact via Twitter the week prior, and although some of us hadn’t met in person previously, we bonded quite quickly and got down to delivering a minimum viable product. Matt and Lachlan were our back-end developers, I did some front end design and Lilly was a video guru as well as being a front end designer, and Sarah was our storyteller and documentation point person. We took to our roles well and over the course of 48 hours, we had delivered a minimum viable product – a map of Melbourne with accessibility information drawn from different data sets on it.
In conclusion, GovHack was a fantastic, frenetic, rewarding and eye-opening experience. The high level of collaboration, the high delivery rate of usable products and the atmosphere were phenomenal – and I can’t wait to do it all again next year, hopefully in Geelong.
- Bootstrap and Bootswatch are incredibly helpful to begin interface development from scratch, and they provide
- git is in ascendance as the preferred collaborative version control tool. Given all our team were comfortable in git, we chose to host our cost on github.com, and this made it much easier and much more efficient for collaborative coding.
- You need a grunty machine for video compositing, editing and rendering. One of the acceptance criteria for each of the teams was that they produce a 3 minute video – our team decided to use OpenShot, a great opensource program. Luckily, the machine I took had 8 CPUs and 16GB of RAM, but rendering a 3 minute video in HD format on something less powerful would have taken a lot longer.
- The exercise at the start was great to get teams together and to better understand one another’s skill sets. GameStorming is the phrase that comes to mind.
- We were hampered in a couple of places because there is no defined data standard for representing accessibility information of buildings. Different cities represented data differently, and although it was in a similar file format – the ubiquitous JSON – the structure of the data itself meant that it was difficult to aggregate this onto a single map. Future iterations of this project – and accessibility developers in general – would be assisted by a defined and agreed data format.
- One of the insights I drew was that great minds bounce off each other. During discussions for the project, the team came up with the idea of a ‘SpoonRating’ for conferences – ‘spoons’ is often used as a metaphor by those with disabilities or chronic illnesses for representing what capacity they might have – ie. ‘I’ve used up all my spoons for today’. Sparks lead to lightbulbs.
- Project homepage: http://hackerspace.govhack.org/content/accessible-melbourne
- Demo of minimum viable product: http://accessible-melbourne.github.io/
- Team video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7KjMPtbqi1s