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Top 5 tips for GovHackers

Last night was the launch of the 2019 GovHack event in Melbourne. Open data evangelist Suneel Jethani from Victoria’s Department of Premier and Cabinet (DPC) welcomed participants and gave them his top five tips for the weekend event...and pitch video.

Salsa Digital 7 September 2019

GovHack Melbourne 2019

Last night Suneel Jethani launched the 2019 Melbourne GovHack event at the University of Melbourne. He opened by talking about the event’s successful history, with 2019 marking GovHack’s 10th anniversary. 

Suneel invited everyone to reflect on 10 years of open data, as he’d been doing. One of Suneel’s roles as the engagement manager for Victoria’s open data program is to talk to people around the world who work with open data in some way. In partnership with the University of Melbourne he’s also been formally interviewing people about open data, focusing on its potential, the challenges and how open data has progressed over the last 10 years. As a comparison point, Suneel suggested people think about their ‘smart’ phones in 2009 and how they were actually pretty ‘dumb’ phones. 

Placing the open data movement in its historical context, Suneel talked about the political impetus the Obama Administration put on open data, and open data’s role in making government more transparent. Over the last 10 years, open data has evolved. Of its current place, Suneel said open data is a “key critical infrastructure for driving civic growth, driving the economy, fostering technical literacies...using open data as a way to get citizens interested in matters of citizen concern.” 

In preparation for GovHack, Suneel decided to search for the word GovHack from all the interviews he’d done with people from around the world. ‘GovHack’ had come up in interviews exactly 300 times. This talks to the importance of GovHack. “It’s a common denominator across all these different people with all these different agendas and all these different ways of thinking about open data,” Suneel said.  

“My message for GovHack participants is to think about how we look at your work because it’s important to us. It’s one of the few things that we have available to us to demonstrate why it’s worth going through all the effort to put data into the public domain.”  

Suneel watches every three-minute GovHack pitch video from around Australia and takes notes. He takes three weeks out of his life to do it and describes it as the best part of his job! And he also had some very specific advice for the GovHack participants as they were about to start ‘the hack’.  

Advice to GovHack participants

Suneel’s advice to GovHack participants was to:

  1. Find a good fit for the problem space: “Think about the fit between the thing you’re designing and the impact you’re hoping to make in the problem space.”  
  2. Choose the right technology for the solution: “Reflect critically on the notion of technological solutions…Is that technology appropriate for the context in which it's being proposed to be used in?”

  3. Think about the bigger picture: “Think about the bigger picture when you're trying to understand the problem space. Try and understand different cause and effect relationships around the problem space. Understand that the problem space is embedded in a much wider set of relations where certain things within the problem space impact other areas.” 

  4. Identify how to enrich the data: “Think about how you’re enriching the data that you’re using. What are you doing to it? ...How might you make that available for other people to reuse?”

  5. Focus the pitch on authenticity rather than polish: Don’t forget that the process of arriving at your final pitch is a really important part of your story.” For this last point, Suneel talked about how engaging he finds the pitch videos where participants have talked about the process (e.g. disagreements, challenges) and “the messy reality that is GovHack.” 

Suneel finished by wishing participants the best and thanking them for taking time out of their weekend to celebrate open data. 

GovHack background

GovHack is an annual two-day event that brings government (local, state and federal) together with industry, academics and anyone who wants to be involved, to create working prototypes that use government data.

GovHack started in 2009 as part of the MashUp Australia initiative. Since then it’s grown from a two-city event to 40 locations across Australia and New Zealand. GovHack is a great opportunity for ‘white hats’ to strut their stuff.

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