My experience at GovHack 2016

As you may know, hackathons are weekend-long technology events where a group of competitors develops a product, system, application, data analysis, business, startups, etc. It is also a great place test ideas, make connections with link-minded people and learn something new.

Govhack is an annual international open data competition. This year the competition happened from 30th of July to 1st of August with more than 2000 competitors!

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The challenge is simple: the competitors should form teams, identify a problem and use data from government agencies from Australia and New Zealand to present a solution to the problem. Naturally, this solution should bring some benefit to the society.

Unlike other hackathons, Govhack’s data sets were available before the competition start. So the competitors could look at the data and had some ideas in advance.

I started this journey attending the Govhack information session which happened one week before the starting date. At this event, some information about the structure of the competition were provided. We also had the opportunity to meet other competitors (including fellow UTS/MDSI students) and share ideas.

At the day of the competition, we were able to make a team with a diverse set of skills and backgrounds. There were 4 UTS/MDSI students, a storyteller/marketing magician, a talented BI/econometrics specialist and a brilliant web & application developer. We called our team Datacake.

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As a starting point, our team published an online survey to understand how safe people feel when walking on the streets, especially at night. As we didn’t have much time, we spread the message via social networks. In a couple of hours, we received 44 answers. It gave us enough information to back our ideas.

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Our team analysed the answers of the survey, engaged in passionate discussions, took tips from the mentors, had lots of coffee and designed some cool diagrams on the blackboard.
Then the magic happened. We had this idea of merging information about crime, demographics, weather, land zoning and street illumination to provide a map of the safe and unsafe areas within a suburb.

We called it “The Lighthouse Project”.

To maximise our time, we divided the team into three main areas: data collection & research, pitch & presentation and development according to the knowledge of the team members. This organisation helped us to work in parallel and deliver the required video and website on time.

I took part in some hackathons before and always had the opportunity to learn in a serene and relaxed environment. Govhack was a very positive experience which gave me more confidence to take more challenges and keep learning.

So, this is the final work

The Lighthouse Project will provide information for city councils, police officers, city planners and policy makers to address solutions to specific problems.

The aim of this project is to make the city smarter, enhance local businesses activities and support a vibrant and safe Sydney night-time economy.

 

 

These are my tips for new hackathonists:

  • Attend the information session

Some hackathons offer an information session couple of days before the competition. This is an excellent opportunity to get the maximum amount of information about the problem and make contacts to form a team

  • Have ideas before the competition

Check the data in advance if it is available. Also, check the details of the organisation which sponsor the hackathon. Try to think which problems they may have at the moment and (most important) how to solve it.
Look for facts, papers or numbers from a trusted source. If you can’t find it, make an informal online survey. It is always good to have information to support your decisions.

  • Teams

If you don’t have a team, don’t worry too much. You will have time for it at the beginning of the competition. Some organisations make a ‘speed dating’ where you listen to some competitor’s ideas or pitch your ideas to ‘recruit’ team members. If you pitch an idea, be clear about the skill sets you are looking for.

  • Look for advice

During the competition, there are some mentors around. They are there to help you. So take the most advantage of them. Ask questions, test ideas, listen to their opinions and challenge their views in a constructive way.

  • Eat. Drink. Think.

Hackathon sessions usually take more than 48 hours so keep hydrated and don’t forget to eat and sleep well

  • Your prize: experience

Take it as an opportunity to learn from the mentors, from your team members and also from the other teams.

  • Happy hacking!

 

Update: our group, Datacake, won the govhack at the Vibrant Sydney Night-time Economy category!

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