Here's a thing I wrote on the government internal wiki (which is only available to government employees). Some of the content was based on an email I received.
If you have ideas about how to make it better, please feel free to leave a comment (or edit it directly on the wiki, if you're in the Government of Canada).
Hackfests and Apps Contests
There are a number of ways to encourage the use of open data and the building of a community. This article uses the broad umbrella of "hackfest" (hackathon, codefest, etc.) to cover some approaches.
Common approaches include:
- an online community discussion channel (e.g. mailing list, discussion board)
- ideas-generating events or contests
- code development events or contests
Sites that offer data, APIs, or other technical capabilities often need support from a broader community in order to sustain and grow their capabilities. This is a key element of community engagement.
Communities may be sector-specific, or they may be based on particular skills or expertise.
Key communities may include:
- software developers
- user interface design experts
- technology standards experts
- domain experts (e.g. health experts, energy experts)
- intended users of a particular technology (e.g. parents for a consumer recall application)
In cases where a desired outcome is the development of new applications or hardware in order to promote economic growth, software development experts are a community that needs specific targeted outreach.
In the United Kingdom, the national Open Data White Paper identifies the need for a Developer Outreach Strategy
We need to work collaboratively to ensure that developers are aware of what datasets are being released, in what timeframes, and to maintain relationships with those at the cutting edge of technology who can help government do things differently and in more agile ways. This kind of conversation between government and users facilitates capacity building both ways to great benefit for the public good.
One approach to this for government websites is to ensure that every site has a /developer subpage that provides contact and community information. Such a page needs to be backed up with active community engagement.
In the US, the national Digital Government Strategy states
To establish a “new default,” the policy will require that newly developed IT systems are architected for openness and expose high-value data and content as web APIs at a discrete and digestible level of granularity with metadata tags. Under a presumption of openness, agencies must evaluate the information contained within these systems for release to other agencies and the public, publish it in a timely manner, make it easily accessible for external use as applicable, and post it at agency.gov/developer in a machine-readable format.
Many events have idea generation as a first stage of the event (typically online-only to get people started thinking). Others are ideas-only (no code created), or run idea generation in parallel with the coding.
- ideas as first stage: Nokia Creating Innovation for People and Planet challenge closes July 31, 2012 followed by an apps contest (the "Do Good Hackathon") http://dogoodhackathon.com/ - if you don't "claim" your idea by registering for the hackathon, anyone can use it
- ideas-only: the GC IT Innovation Challenge ran in 2009
- ideas in parallel: the City of Ottawa offered separate prizes for ideas and for code in its 2010-2011 Apps4Ottawa contest
There has been an upsurge in organisations offering prizes for creative use of their technology assets, most typically an "apps contest" using open data that they have released. This has ranged from the municipal to the international level.
It is an easy entry point into leveraging the value of released data, but it should be considered only one piece of an overall engagement strategy.
A caution on expectations from cash prizes - they will incentivize creation of individual apps, but they are not sufficient to help build community. Four Ways Summer of Smart has Reinvented Civic Hackathons states
Don’t (just) offer cash prizes. (Hackathons should build a community.) We have seen dozens of apps contents and hackathons where it’s assumed that a few thousand dollars of incentive as a prize will help seed the projects and produce innovation. But as many have found, this model simply isn’t effective – and there is a clear reason why: civic hackers are driven not by money, but by the potential of their work to create civic and social change.
Canadian Apps Contests
Completed or Currently Running events
- Apps4Ottawa - the City of Ottawa in 2010-2011 - with organising support and hackfests from citizen's group Open Data Ottawa
- Apps4Edmonton - August 2010
- Apps4ClimateAction BC - August 2010
- Apps4Good - May 2010
- London Open Data Budget App
- Canpages API
- e-Health 2012 Apps Challenge
- Royal Canadian Mint (RCM) MintChip Challenge - Deadline for submissions is August 1, 2012
- «Let’s Develop Together!» [Société de transport de Laval (STL)
- AppStar (UTSC Mobile App Development Competition)
The City of Ottawa will have a second contest in fall 2012. The lead at the City of Ottawa is Rob Giggey (Twitter: @rob_giggey).
The US government offers a general platform for citizen competitions of many different types called Challenge.gov The tagline is: "On Challenge.gov, the public and government can solve problems together."
Hackfests (General Information)
Developers will sometime create simply based around a data release or a hackfest event, without needing to have a specific contest. For example a wide range of applications for bus arrival times were created following the City of Ottawa's release of real-time transit open data - there was no contest, but the data release was widely promoted and there was a related 2012 Ottawa Transit Data Day event.
- Hack Regina Fall 2012
- Startup Edmonton Summer Hackathon 2012 - #hackathonyeg
- Hackons la corruption 2012 organised by Quebec Ouverte
- Gatineau Hackathon 2.0 - May 5, 2012
- 3rd Open Data Ottawa Hackfest - December 3, 2011 - @opendataottawa - #hackott
- Random Hacks of Kindness Montreal - December 2011 - @rhokmtl
- Random Hacks of Kindness Toronto - December 2011 - @rhokto
GC Hackfests and related events
- WET Codefest - July 2012 - event to work on government web standards
- Open Policy@DFAIT - February 2012 - although not a hackfest per se, it included an unconference where various aspects of application development and coding were discussed
- Dutch Parliament Hosts Apps4Democracy Event - Sept. 2012 - "The Dutch Parliament is planning a major release of parliamentary data as open data, and the hack day is aimed at letting coders explore and work with the data."
- UK - 4th National Hack the Government Day - April 2012 - #nhtg12 - also see blog post National Hack The Government Day 2012 - hosted at http://digital.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/
Ottawa & Gatineau Groups
There are many Ottawa-area groups with expertise related to community-building and software development.