Last week Salsa Digital alongside our partner Acquia were premium sponsors of GovHack, a 46-hour hackathon endorsed by the Australian government. The event brought together IT experts from all walks of life, from students and budding entrepreneurs to corporate juggernauts — like us :). Why? For one common cause: to explore how open data can be used to solve real problems and provide real benefits to citizens — to you and me.
So what is open data? It’s simple. Our government (like many others across the globe) produces and collects a lot of data. Why not make it available, thus open, to the public for consumption?
Why? That’s simple too. For government the GovHack endorsement makes complete sense — it’s about encouraging co-production with public citizens to leverage the power of the community to solve real problems with real benefits in creative, unconstrained ways.
Open data in action
To illustrate the concept in action, I’ll use an example from GovHack:
Imagine you’re out on the town and you’re busting to go to the toilet without a toilet in sight.
You open your mobile phone and install the “Find My Toilet" app.
The App displays all the nearest public toilets (based on your proximity/GPS) and also tells you how long it would take to walk, drive or more realistically run :) to get there.
But it gets better...
Imagine if the app anonymously collected data about your “needs” and the actual time and distance it took you to get to the toilet. Essentially contributing “citizen-sourced” data back to the open data pool.
Imagine if the app uploaded data that represented things like:
a. where you made the request (your location);
b. the toilet you selected; and
c. the time and distance it took you to get there.
Imagine then that the custodians for the data (Government Department of Social Services) could take this data to get a better understanding of where they should place toilets, how many, etc.
Ahh, what a relief. Oh, how beautiful would life be? Sadly, we can’t take credit for this concept. Rather, it was an idea we observed with envy being presented, prototyped and contributed to the GovHack 2016 competition. .
So, did Salsa Digital compete and get our own hands dirty to contribute to GovHack? You betcha.
Salsa Digital’s solution
Seven enthusiastic and devoted Salsarians came together to solve an equally serious problem of needing to find a toilet…imagine if there was a website (or App) that would find your future instead? Okay, perhaps not as cool as finding a toilet but seriously — we took this seriously.
We decided it was a great opportunity to combine all our experiences in open data, open source, government and visual design to solve a problem: I’m dissatisfied with my career or industry and would like to know what other careers are currently interesting or trending in my region or other regions. This could be equally useful for students evaluating what courses they should consider to pursue a desired career.
So how did we do it? We considered open data, open source and open government and then chose GovCMS as the base platform for our implementation. Using GovCMS made a lot of sense: it’s designed and built for Australian government agencies, by the Australian Government; and it enabled us to leverage the powerful features built by the digital pioneers before us so we could focus (and pioneer) on our problem, find my future. Conveniently we got to use and "show off” :) the data visualisation module we t, which enables us to represent complex open-data sets (future job trends and statistics) in visually engaging ways.
We could go on about the tech and the platform and show you the 7 drupal modules, 78 functions and 2214 lines of code but that wouldn’t be cool. Instead, here’s some visual designs we produced for the prototype illustrating the concept:
Overall we had a great time and lots of fun. We also had the pleasure of being accompanied by one or two of our clients — acting custodians of several of the open-data sets made available for the competition.
Yes, it was exhausting, but the code, the coke, the pizza, the caffeine and the atmosphere was all worth it.
Until the next GovHack.