GovHack Geelong 2016

After the great success of GovHack Geelong 2015, exemplified by the recent production release of Geelong Free Wifi Data by Parham Hausler and Daniel McCarthy, I was thrilled to be given the opportunity to run it all over again this year.

Event planning and promotion

Planning for the event started around May, which was a little later than the 2015, however this year’s event had been scheduled later in July so that it didn’t fall over the University and School holidays. This year’s organisation was much easier given that we knew what to expect, and had learned a number of lessons from our inaugural year, including the importance of strong, easy wireless, clear instructions on what had to be done, and ensuring our GovHackers were well fed. We decided early on to split up into teams to spread out the organisational load of the event – with a national liaison / admin type role, a marketing and communications role, a sponsorship role and a logistics / catering / venue liaison role. This worked out quite well, and it’s a strategy that we’ll likely employ in future years.

Our promotional strategy this year was a little different from last year, where significant efforts were made to engage with the secondary school community around Geelong. These had only limited success, and so this year we turned our attention to attempting to engage at the business and industry level in Geelong, in particular with development and software companies. This was an excellent idea by Todd Hubers, our communications and marketing lead, and we were able to attract at least one corporate-based team. By using registrations from last year, we were also able to engage developers who’d participated in 2015. We also engaged media early on, with a write up in the Geelong Advertiser. This helped to spread the word early on. Of course, we also put significant effort into social media, with our Twitter and Facebook presence growing significantly in the lead up to this year’s event – a mechanism which can then be leveraged further into future year’s events. We supplemented all these efforts with a poster campaign that was delivered through key developer and student channels (GovHack Geelong 2016 Learn New Skills poster, 2MB PDF).

Open data providers

City of Greater Geelong Open Data Portal

In terms of data providers, Andrew Downie from City of Greater Geelong did a great job engaging with multiple institutions around Geelong, and we were delighted to have Geelong Regional Libraries Corporation come on board this year, releasing data sets related to their collections. The open data love continued, with the City releasing their open data portal in the week before GovHack!

There are however some Geelong institutions and open data sources I’d really like to include in future year events so that we continue to build and grow on the momentum that’s already being generated. In particular, it would be great to have organisations like Barwon Water, Department of Education (in particular I’d really like Year 12 completion data by location or school), and Barwon Health more actively engaged. Of course, both the engagement component and the ‘doing’ component – gathering, cleansing, governing and releasing open data – has a resource overhead. While movements like GovHack help to prove the value of open data, it can take some time for large organisations to come around to the viewpoint that their data is more valuable when it’s shared openly, and be willing to invest time and resources in doing so.

The event itself – hackers, hacking and hacks

The event itself was a blast! We had great representation from our sponsors – City of Greater Geelong, Deakin University, Geelong Regional Library Corporation and Aconex – and this allowed us to provide strong catering (thanks to the folks at Waterfront Kitchen). Well fed hackers are happy hackers. Some of the glitches we experienced last year with internet connectivity were ironed out before this year, and we only had one instance of someone being unable to connect to the wireless network. The network survived a massive onslaught, with video, massive datasets and large imagery all testing its mettle!

The biggest technical issue of the event turned out to be the GovHack Hackerspace itself. With the flood of submissions just before ‘keyboards down’ at 5pm on the Sunday, the site ground to a halt – causing consternation amongst the hackers that they’re hard earned projects may not be recognised. The Hackerspace was kept open for an additional few hours to allow the teams to upload their finished products.

The atmosphere of the day was fantastic. One of my favourite moments was Baby Olive helping out her Dad – Ian Priddle of Codeacious.

Inclusion was the theme of the day, with some great diversity of participants and skillsets in all the teams.

Above all, it was great to see creativity unleashed  in all its forms, including mood, temperature and open hardware sensing!

Popular tools and techniques

IBM Watson Twitter Analysis for @KathyReid
IBM Watson Twitter Analysis for @KathyReid

Again, visualisation – both in 2D, and increasingly in 3D with tools like Unity – was a key theme of the event, and one of my favourite tools was the super-easy-to-use IBM Watson Twitter visualisation. Javascript and visualization libraries such as d3.js again featured heavily this year. Javascript – and jQuery – is now considered an essential for all front end web developers – HTML and CSS (and variants such as SASS and, decreasingly, LESS) are no longer sufficient. Mapping tools – Google Maps, MapBox, CartoDB and so on, are also gaining more prominence as ‘must have’ skills, particularly for visualization of geospatial data.

Without a doubt, having good Git skills for any coder or developer is becoming a prerequisite for all hackathons now, as is a GitHub account. There was mention of using Bitbucket occasionally, but Git is still by far the most popular choice for distributed version control for developers.

Slack really took off this year, with the GovHackHQ Slack having nearly 900 simultaneous users during the event. It’s fair to say that Slack has hit widespread adoption – and that’s largely due to both the large range of integrations it has available, as well as the excellent user experience it provides – irrespective of platform or operating system. It’s one of the few tools I can use that has both a native client on the operating systems I use – mainly Android and Linux – as well as an excellent and feature-equivalent web interface.

Hardware wise, I observed lots of wireless mice, and lots of ‘second screens’ – one screen just doesn’t seem to be enough anymore – perhaps a symbol of our ever-more-multitasked world?

UX skills and techniques also seem to be gaining traction – I saw user stories, wireframing, storyboarding and even some basic persona mapping going on.

Projects delivered by Geelong teams at GovHack Geelong 2016

Project
Team name
Link to project
Link to project video
Pet-tential Claws and Effect Homepage Video
NewsPulse Settlers of Cremorne Homepage Video
5-D City Explorer IDeEA Lab Homepage Video Video (alt)
SmartPath SmartPath Homepage Video
GreenWalking GFox