Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Don’t code? You’ve got plenty to offer at #GovHack.

Helen Ensikat recently described GovHack as “a weekend for people with ideas” and I couldn’t agree more. When I first heard about the event – an opportunity to get creative with government data – I was excited. But what could I offer? As a marketing manager I had worked with digital creative agencies, but never directly with developers.  As a History PhD student I had experimented with digital humanities tools, but I had never built one myself.  In fact, the closest I had got to code was embedding YouTube videos in my blog.  Was there a place for me at GovHack?

Absolutely! If you get excited about sharing knowledge, technology and creativity - and are not afraid to be pushed out of your comfort zone - you’ll have a lot to offer at GovHack.  If you’re a practitioner or a researcher working in a museum, library or university you’re likely to have valuable insights into real life issues and research problems. Janice Chan (@icecjan) has written a fantastic blog post about why librarians should attend GovHack and her insights resonated strongly with me. Non-programmers can shine in roles such as concept development, research, project management, copywriting, user testing, video production, design, and writing submission documentation.

Convinced to sign up for the 2014 event? Here’s how I prepared.

1. Explore the Govpond
GovPond is an index of Federal and Western Australian data compiled by Helen Ensikat (@HelenEnsikat) and Keith Moss (@kevin_rudds_cat). It is an extraordinary resource! I spent several hours exploring data sets, noting down what information was available and thinking about ways to combine this information to create meaning. If you begin to feel overwhelmed, don't panic! Take a break and then try to narrow your search to a specific topic or research problem.

2. Develop some concepts

A week before Govhack I spent a sunny Sunday afternoon brainstorming ideas and sketching out concepts visually.  I tried to ground ideas in research problems and insights into specific public audiences.

3. Use social networks to reach out for collaborators
I had never been to a hackathon before and I had no idea what to expect. The organisers of the Perth event held drinks on the Friday night prior to GovHack where I was able to meet some of the organisers, attendees and ask some questions. I also used social networks to share my ideas and find potential collaborators, posting ideas on our Facebook Page and tweeting to #GovHackPerth.

4. Research stand-alone tools available to hack government data
You don’t need to code to hack government data. There are literally hundreds of fantastic tools available to help individuals undertake digital humanities research – from text mining and visualisation to dynamic maps. I explored repositories such as Bamboo DiRT and the Stanford University Portal, Tooling Up for Digital Humanities, to get an idea of what was possible. 

5. Then let it all go!
I had done a fair amount of preparation before the event, but when I walked in the door I let it all go.  Sure, it would be nice to work on one of the ideas I had started thinking about, but I was just as open to working on someone else’s project or even working solo.  People pasted their ideas on the walls and we walked around discussing concepts and forming teams.  It was all really informal and friendly and it was amazing how organically people came together. I was lucky to find a group of extremely talented people who just happened to be interested in developing a similar concept as mine.

6. And enjoy the process!
The outcomes from GovHack Perth were breathtaking but for me it was all about the process. It was a huge buzz to watch a bunch of creative, passionate, smart people work together solve problems. I learned an incredible amount in 48 hours and was blown away by the generosity of my fellow hackers. For me, the weekend epitomised the spirit of creativity and collaboration and I was thrilled to be part of it.

And while I’ll never be a professional developer, the event has certainly inspired me to improve my digital literacy.

It’s true.

I’m joining Rails Girls.

And it's all to Team Pixtory. Thanks a million guys!

Dave Adams @solutionsmith - Project manager / Information architect
Andy Hope @AndyyHope - iOS Developer/ Designer
Darcy Laycock @Sutto - Developer
Matt Didcoe @mattman - Developer
Dave Newman @DaveJamesNewman - Information architect

Project update! (Thurs 6 June, 2013) We are thrilled to announce that Pixtory won two national prizes at GovHack 2013, 'Most innovative transport project' and 'Trove Prize' - in addition to the local 'Spirit of GovHack' Award. Incredibly proud of our team.

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