Sunday, April 26, 2015

Hack Challenges: National Day of Civic Hacking 2015

If you registered for the "DHMN Civic Hackathon/Appleton 2015" you may be wondering about what you'll do on that day. Last week the tentative agenda for the hackathon was in a blog post. Most people who want to work on a coding-focused hack will probably be using open datasets from the city of Appleton. Another option at a civic hackathon is to participate in a challenge, or civic hacking contest.

Hackathon challenges are usually designed so you have to do most of the work building the hack at the event, in order to give all participants a fair chance of winning. You should still prepare for the challenge, though, by researching the event, researching the challenge topic, making a list of online or real-world resources you might need during the event, and generally becoming as knowledgeable about the topic as you can.

Regarding challenges for the National Day of Civic Hacking (NDoCH) on June 6, 2015, Code for America (CfA) says:
"The theme for National Day of Civic Hacking is Principles for 21st Century Government. We encourage events to organize around one or more of the Principles. In addition to the theme, we’ll be offering challenges for organizers to use at their events. We anticipate offering challenges in the areas of Health; Safety and Justice; Economic Development; Climate; Disaster Relief; Oceans; and Mapping."
I haven't seen online info from CfA with more information or details regarding their NDoCH challenges, but I've set up a couple Google News Alerts to track news about these challenges. Posts on this blog will bring you info about the challenges as I find out more.

In addition to the NDoCH challenges organized and promoted by CfA, there may be other challenges civic hackers can work on in Appleton on June 6. An example of this is the "Visualizing Nutrients Challenge" from the US Geological Survey (USGS) and US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). If you want to read a little about this challenge, check out the USGS news release "Seeing into Water in New Ways: The Visualizing Nutrients Challenge." I'll do a future post on this challenge with lots of details and links because it seems like an interesting and worthwhile challenge (partly because I'm a chemical engineer with lots of experience in water treatment, water quality, and environmental impact).

Another challenge being offered on NDoCH 2015 is the Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) "DetectaRobo" contest. The challenge is for you to use FTC-provided data from a honeypot to predict which incoming calls are robocalls. The odd thing about this challenge is that it's appears to be promoted as an opportunity for the (thousands of) civic hackers participating in NDoCH, but the FTC is limiting it to the first fifty challenge registrations they receive after 9 AM on June 6. Limiting the challenge to fifty people or teams seems like an incongruous feature of an activity designed for a day that's supposed to engage thousands of people in civic hacking. I sent an email to the FTC asking why they're limiting it to 50 registrants and requesting they allow many more people to participate in the DetectaRobo challenge. I'll keep you informed on this blog if the FTC responds to either of my requests.

The Visualizing Nutrients Challenge and the DetectaRobo Challenge may both be challenges that CfA promotes on NDoCH, but for now they appear to be independently offered by the USGS / EPA and by the FTC.

The two challenges described above deal with US federal government open datasets. Other civic hackathon challenges deal with local government open datasets. Examples of local dataset challenges are listed along the right side on the ChallengePost "Hack For LA" 2013 event webpage. That event had $24,650 in prizes for the challenges, and those challenges had sponsors like AT&T, Google, Chase Bank,, and Esri. Hack For LA is doing a two-day 2015 civic hackathon in association with NDoCH 2015, and they will likely have 2015 challenges similar to the ones offered in 2013, which included:
  1. Google Challenge: Best Environmental/ Health app -- a challenge to focused on using the wealth of public environmental and health data to clear up the confusion and help people make better choices.
  2. Chase Bank Challenge: Best app related to jobs, business, and economic development -- create the best app for Los Angeles economic development, including apps that help people look for jobs, job training, apps that serve local small businesses, help foster local entrepreneurship etc.
  3. ESRI Map Challenge -- this challenge awards $1,000 for the best app that uses an ESRI map layer for a civic purpose.
  4. CGI Challenge -- for the best use of Los Angeles-specific data in an app or visualization.
If we can get AT&T, Google, Esri, Autodesk, Microsoft, NASA, Skyline, Omni, Heartland, one or several banks located in Appleton, and other organizations to be sponsors, the DHMN Civic Hackathon/Appleton 2015 could offer June 6th challenges with prizes. Those challenges aren't the primary focus of our Appleton event or a necessary feature of our civic hackathon. But they would make the event more interesting and possibly be an incentive for some developers to participate in the event.

Check back on this blog periodically to find out more info regarding challenges for civic hacking and open government data that you can participate in.
If you haven't done it yet, register for the June 6 DHMN Civic Hackathon/Appleton 2015 event. Because this is the first Northeast Wisconsin civic hackathon, we only have room for 100 participants, so REGISTER TODAY!!


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