Toowoomba to launch inaugural GovHack

This story of mine was originally published on the Tech Street Journal, where I currently work as a student contributor. 

At a time when cyber security and the associated metadata laws are on the forefront of the political mindset, it’s somewhat surprising that the Australian Government has been sponsoring events in which government data is ‘hacked’.

Beginning on Friday July 3rd, the annual GovHack competition weekend will launch in Toowoomba for the first time. The international event sees competitors work together to explore, mash up, ideate and communicate concepts using open Government data.

Key organiser and co-founder of the Toowoomba Startup Group David Masefield was first introduced to the competition at the Gold Coast in 2014, and believed it would be a valuable event to hold in the Darling Downs region.

“I wanted to start a community of startups and entrepreneurs going in Toowoomba”, he said. “I was interested in GovHack because I wanted to grow an ecosystem of hackers and coders and hustlers and hipsters.”

GovHack: Image supplied by David Masefield
GovHack: Image supplied by David Masefield

The event isn’t just designed for professional hackers, however. It’s for anyone who has an interest in unlocking the potential of data, and building upon it for social and economic improvement.

“There’s a lot of data that gets collected through the everyday process of government and that data is not necessarily put to use, ” said Masefield.

“GovHack gives people the opportunity to discover and use open source government data to create good things.”

One local that has became interested in repurposing data is Joy Taylor, a Toowoomba banker. Taylor originally traveled to the Gold Coast to volunteer and observe the 2014 competition, but decided to enter the competition as a one-woman team after watching everyone have fun with the dataset.

“When looking at data I found something that had some meaning to me,” said Taylor. “I thought other people might benefit from a better understanding of such data in their day-to-day lives.”

Taylor entered the ‘Community Care’ section of the annual competition, and designed myShots, an app that mapped locations corresponding to childhood immunization clinics in the Gold Coast.

The app was built to suggest that, “people should manage their health better, by being reminded when it’s time for a breast screening, a prostate check, or when you’re due for a pap smear.”

With absolutely no experience of coding or hacking, Taylor’s design was named as the winner of the ‘Community Care’ section. In 46 hours, she successfully pitched an app to the judges.

“It was tiring.” Taylor admitted, “But you’re on a bit of a buzz. There’s so much data that’s held in spreadsheets and other platforms that people could use for themselves or for others that can genuinely improve the way we live out lives.”

The social improvement inherent in the event has impacted national politics within Australia, and the Australian Government is a key sponsor of the event.

GovHack organiser Alysha Thomas said, “The GovHack event itself has become a driving force for #opendata and we now see federal, state and local Governments align their open data release plans with the competition.”

As Masefield said, the competition is about networking, collaboration, and “giving back good things back to the community”.

Images provided by David Masefield. 

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