Hackathon taps local talent to boost state services
A mix of participants — inclusive of everyone from software developers to designers to business people and entrepreneurs — comes together to solve a problem, building diverse solutions and pitching them.
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Hackathons are fun. A mix of participants — inclusive of everyone from software developers to designers to business people and entrepreneurs — comes together to solve a problem, building diverse solutions and pitching them. Often there’s a tight deadline, like a weekend, and prizes can range from cash to bragging rights.
Hackathons are a great way to bring a community together, to collectively identify challenges and design different solutions. Having many creative minds working in teams on a single problem gets everyone in the mindset of collective action. Talking is good; building is better.
And hackathons can be organized by a business or service hoping to encourage people to use their specific tools. But people can smell a pitch or a play for free labor a mile away.
The best hackathons tackle current, relevant, tangible problems, where the solutions can lead to better products, services or messaging for a broader community.
I’m fortunate to have participated in dozens of local hackathons over the past eight years. I helped organize CityCamp Honolulu in 2011, perhaps the first, dedicated to improving Honolulu county services. And on Saturday the state Capitol hosted the fourth Hawaii Annual Code Challenge (HACC), focused on state government.
I admit, government isn’t the most exciting topic or venue for a hackathon. But when the HACC is successful, public agencies get an energetic dose of innovation, new tools and thinking, and just maybe do a better job of serving the public.
This year’s weekend kickoff event sold out. The crowd included everyone from coders to artists to merely curious citizens. UH students filled several rows of seats. High school students turned out as well.
Four agencies made “reverse pitches” — presenting the problems that needed solutions.
The Department of Education showcased the sustainability and community resilience projects implemented by schools statewide, and sought help turning the diverse list into an online resource.
The DOE dream tool would help translate these innovative projects into educational standards and career pathways. Perhaps a “Tinder for sustainability projects”? Swipe right for composting!
The State Energy Office, working with Hawaiian Electric, offered up a juicy database of electric charging stations and their utilization over several years. Would it be possible to crunch these numbers to find underserved communities, over-subscribed chargers or predict future demand?
Hawaii Green Growth is looking for help deriving more insights and value from its Aloha+ Dashboard, an open data platform that collects and showcases community-by-community sustainability efforts. From alternative transportation to school gardens, how can they increase participation and measure success?
Finally, the Department of Business and Economic Development’s Green Infrastructure Authority wants to make it easier to apply for government loans to support energy independence projects. Despite an $88 million loan portfolio, the authority struggles with limited resources to find applicants and process applications. Could someone build a platform that makes all of this easier, for applicants as well as the state?
Unlike frantic day- or weekend-long hackathons, HACC offers participants a full month to design and build their proposed solutions. The deadline to form a team is this week, but teams don’t have to submit any code until Nov. 11. And if chosen as a finalist, teams can work right up until “judgment day,” the public pitch and judging event on Nov. 16 at Hawaii Pacific University.
Over $7,000 in prize money is up for grabs. But for the HACC, the best-case scenario is one in which everyone wins.
Ryan Ozawa is communications director for local tech company Hawaii Information Service, and a lifelong technologist. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter at @hawaii.