Recently, I had the privilege of judging the City of Guelph’s Hackathon which reached out to the community for solutions related to Waste and Transit.  With the City providing cash prizes, students, individuals and companies rose to the task and created some great apps using City datasets.  So, why is government interested in Hackathons?

Community Involvement

An essential step towards Open Government is establishing transparency and accountability. Gone now are the days where the inner workings of government are behind the curtain. Opening up integral data regarding activities and decisions allows the community to start understanding how and why the government works.  As that happens, the relationship will evolve to be more of a partnership, where we are collectively making improvements for service delivery.

Division of Labour

Government IT staff are typically overloaded with legacy systems and making sure the lights are kept on.  Only the highest priority items get addressed and the “nice to haves” end up on the shelf.  Students, techies and companies love to solve problems and if you organize it, they will often do it for free.  Allowing them to work away to help solve a problem also reduces the overall backlog of requests.

New Technology and Ideas

Let’s be honest, government is typically not using the latest and greatest technical languages and frameworks.  Adopting new technology is often difficult for larger enterprises, not just the government.  There are so many constraints and roadblocks that the government can’t be agile, but others can.  Whether it’s a small mobile development shop looking to showcase their skills or a student trying to learn by using the most recent open source framework.  These apps will augment the services offered by the government and will typically do it in an innovative way.

Sharing and Opportunity

Chances are, if one jurisdiction has a problem that needs to be solved, there are many with the exact same problem.  Sharing solutions not only saves time and money, it also creates opportunities for companies to sell apps to other jurisdictions.  Many apps allow for white labeling that will give each jurisdiction its branded look.

Hip and Cool

Let’s be honest, start-ups are hip and cool, and hackathons make everyone feel like they are on an episode of Dragons’ Den.  Who doesn’t want to potentially be involved in building the next hot product?

Strike while the iron is hot, let’s get more and more hackathons our there and build a better government.