Hacking the Government: An Acquian Helps Push Australia Further Towards Open Data

Under normal circumstances, accessing government data, creating hacks with it -- even making products with it -- would be seen as irresponsible, and possibly criminal.

Once a year, however, a multitude of Australian Government departments across federal, state and local levels get together to do all three, and the push the government further towards open data.

The event, GovHack, was first conceived in 2009 as a Gov 2.0 Taskforce project, with the directive to take data from government APIs and use skills in Web/app development, hardware engineering, design, and UX to create a more useful and usable experience for Australians to consume. Since then it has evolved into an event that is entirely community- and volunteer-run, with an international presence and thousands of participants annually.

The Australian Federal government's acceptance of open data and embrace of open source is also key to driving the success of the govCMS project. As GovHack empowers individuals, govCMS empowers agencies with the flexibility to drive innovation without being hampered by hassles of procurement or developing features from scratch. Both result in a better user experience for all Australians and an example to the rest of the world.

Acquia become involved starting with GovHack 2014, when the events were held in Canberra. Acquians helped run both the local events and the hacks themselves. As a company, we stepped it up another notch for the 2015 event taking on the roles of both silver sponsorship and mentoring the event nationwide.

As a solutions architect, I work with customers to establish technical solutions, providing guidance about capabilities, and how to leverage tools effectively. As a GovHack mentor, I took that same approach to the teams competing, assisting them in thinking up novel ways to use government data, help engineer displays, and architect the final implementations.

I worked with teams using Drupal, other frameworks, and entirely custom application code. It was exciting to see the innovation arising from inspired teams that had open slather (Australian for "complete freedom") to play with open government data.

For teams using Drupal, we were able to provide the use of the full Acquia Cloud platform for their projects, enabling them to focus on module development and theme design rather than the provisioning of an entire infrastructure stack.

The results

The culmination of this intense 48 hours of hacking was reached a month after the teams started working, with the bestowing of awards at the GovHack red carpet event.

Acquia and Microsoft worked collaboratively through all Public Service team entries to pick the winner in our sponsored category. Finally coming out on top for us was Pick a Park by team "Feature Creeper and the Creeps." Not only was the submitted entry a good example of what a minimum viable product should look like, but it also showed an understanding of the data sets used in the build, rather than just a blind application of data to functionality.

Great to hear also was the news that two Acquia-mentored projects -- True Stories by team "Potato Heads," and Care Factors by team "Social Hackers" -- were runners up in their respective categories.

From here

As a GovHack sponsor and mentor, it was great fun to get involved in some of the hacks that were built, not only for the duration of the event, but also afterwards. Acquia is still providing a highly available best-of-breed Drupal platform for the Care Factors team, and I’m still working with the True Stories team on their extension and platform infrastructure. Even though it’s not Drupal, the use case is compelling enough for me to think it has real potential.

As both a mentor, a technologist, and a GovHacker myself, I’m looking forward to next year's GovHack 2016, where we can enable more hacks, push for a greater degree of open data -- and improve the user experience and useability of government websites as we do it!