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Hacking the government

Wellington hackers attempted to hack the government last weekend. Here's the story.

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Last weekend, some SilverStripers, together with hundreds of other Wellington 'hackers', attempted an ambitious project at the GovHack Wellington NZ 2016, taking place at the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE): hacking open data together to solve problems at the heart of the New Zealand government.

In an effort to improve the visibility of the data available, different teams worked with a whole lot of data from the government, Land Information New Zealand, HERE maps and Statistics NZ (and a lot more) with a common goal to create a video to present their ideas and prototypes/proof-of-concepts (PoC) to the deciding commission. Or maybe not? For most of the participants, the goal was to create a PoC and contribute to the way we all use available data to improve living in New Zealand.

The experience of businesses, students, designers and developers working together over a single weekend was unique. Ideas and approaches to problems must change. Thinking outside the box was essential. Creating solutions for problems that seemed to have never existed, yet were there if you looked a bit closer. Managers, designers, developers all worked towards a common goal with very different approaches and ideas as to what the solutions might be.The synergy between people at GovHack is amazing—something everybody must experience at least once if you ask me.

liningup

The mentors, lining up for introduction.

Ideas from 'how to solve housing problems', 'furniture problems for refugees' to 'mental health issues for students'. They were all there. And more.

Yours truly was not in a team, but walking around as an API and technical 'Hey Mentor Dude (which seemed to be my moniker for the weekend)', I got a glimpse of what was going on in almost all teams. A great way of discovering new ideas, but also broadening the view of the teams themselves, by questioning their goals, target audiences or sometimes even their project setup. Not to discourage them of course, but to get the conversation going.

A common issue in the development process we mentors encountered was having to tone down the ambition of a project. You didn't need to use the full dataset. Go with just one bit of information to show your idea. You needed proof of concept, not a fully developed piece of software. A prototype was good enough if it got the message across to the judges.

Housing and living showed itself as being quite a big issue in New Zealand at the moment. The environment also got attention. My personal favourite was the project to encourage young people to get better psychological care.

opendataAs the deadline drew nearer on Sunday, the tension became more and more obvious, as teams were stressing to get the video up, get their project out there, wondering what they should do.

Don’t let the frustration get to you! Encouraging words like “It won’t upload faster if all of you stare at it, go grab something to eat or drink” were not uncommon for me to say in the team 'offices'.

The Spirit of GovHack award Wellington went to the Houseketeers, who started out as three different teams, all with different goals, but ended up working together on their project Job Lock.

cooperation

Great cooperation and bringing multiple issues together into one project.

Honorary mentions go to the Lighthouse project, who have been working on making the government more accessible for the youth, Mapoo, for trying to make it easier to go to find a (clean) loo when you’re out there in the wilderness. Homely, giving refugees a home they can actually live in, through social interaction. And the MineWelly team created a Minecraft model of the MBIE building. (Check it out, you can play with it yourself!)

minecraft

Minecraft model of MBIE building

There were, of course, a lot of more projects which will be listed at the end of this article.

SilverStripe project

Our SilverStripe developers, Garion and Ben, went on to tackle the problem with DoC Huts since now fewer and fewer people are carrying cash with them. Dockets

Ben & Garion about their project:

We had the lofty goal of enhancing the economic potential of our national parks by enabling people to make cashless offline payments when they use outdoor recreation facilities. By utilising open data detailing the huts, trails, and campsites within New Zealand we put together a proof of concept to tackle this problem. The goal being a cross platform application using DOC and ECAN geospatial data to enable tourists and trampers the ability to plan trips, check into facilities (huts etc), and provide feedback on the state of huts and trails to promote maintenance, health and safety, and provide data on tourism trends. Over the course of the weekend the multi-disciplined team worked together to develop the core idea, build a proof of concept using open source technologies and data, and develop a pitch video outlining the problem and solution.


All in all, a great event. And I got a new t-shirt and a load of new experiences and things to do. I can only advise everyone to sign up for next year.

A big “Thank You!” to all who helped organise, who participated, visited, supplied, mentored, taught and anyone else I may have forgotten.

Wellington projects, in no particular order:

Welcometo.nz
Lighthouse
GUIDE.ME
DOGSS
MineWelly
Mapoo
My life, my council
Shambles
Houseketeers
iMatter
Docket
Homely
KiwiBubble

Pictures from GovHack NZ Wellington

All projects from NZ and AU

About the author
Simon Erkelens

Simon is a developer at SilverStripe. When not at work, he's writing other programs or focusses on one of his modules he wrote or co-wrote. Or writing new things.

As a real backend developer, he's usually staring at a dark screen with code only. Although every now and then, he can be convinced to work on some frontend things or testing.

In real life, he looks nothing like the cow in his avatar, but he does love cows (both alive and medium rare)

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Comments

  • Many thanks for the article, but this is too far from real life. People recognize a hacker as bad and dangerous person. It is excellent idea for government to establish a cooperation with hack "experts". or, maybe it is just an idea to stay closed to enemy in order to understand his moves and plans.

    Posted by Andrej Subotic, 18/09/2016 7:03pm (2 years ago)

  • Thanks for the article. Very good idea to force the government to cooperate with "ordinary" experts.

    Posted by Andrej Subotic, 18/09/2016 6:53pm (2 years ago)

  • hacking is really an interesting thing but i never learned it. Would you guys suggest me how to do it

    Posted by Melvin Foster, 08/08/2016 1:39am (2 years ago)

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