#GovHackSA: intrepid developers tackle challenging government problems

#GovHackSA winners

The first-ever #GovHackSA event held recently, was a free, day-long coding marathon for developers to create new and novel solutions to problems faced by the Western Cape Government, City of Cape Town and Wesgro.

The event was spurred by Alan Winde, MEC for Finance in the Western Cape Government, and taken forward by the volunteer GovHackSA team.

There were four challenges presented to over 40 community members in attendance. Each participant could choose which challenge they wanted to work on, and teams were formed organically. Some chose to jump right into coding while others brainstormed ideas. Justin Coetzee of GoMetro shared his experiences as a startup in getting access to government work (PRASA/Metrorail), explained how government procurement processes worked, and shared his journey. Then it was back to work for the teams.

The challenges were set and the teams formed:

Challenge 1: IT & Education. Create a leader board competition for high school students that take an online quiz to test their problem solving ability. The aim is to improve problem solving skills and identify learners with the potential to become software developers and follow a career in IT. The problem was posed by Max Brock, Western Cape IT Curriculum Advisor and CapaCITi1000, a Cape IT Initiative to grow the pool of IT skills. Three teams worked on this problem, adopting very different approaches, that included customising existing Drupal modules, building on top of tech already developed by Bandwidth Barn startup iFunda, and another approach by a UWC team.

Challenge 2: Events App: The challenge was based on a problem pitched by Wesgro CEO, Nils Flaatten. He needed an events app that could proactively gather data and post-event information — from social media in particular — of all the events held in the Western Cape.

Challenge 3: “Fix my street”. The challenge was to create a local version of “fixmystreet” where you can report issues from potholes to broken lights which can notify the corresponding counsellor and streamline service delivery. Thembinkosi Siganda of Economic Development at the City of Cape Town highlighted the City’s commitment to the IT startup community via the Bandwidth Barn. The team grappled with the challenge that the open source “FixMyStreet” code they planned to build on top of was developed in Perl and not in PHP as anticipated.

Challenge 4: Fix my Red Tape. Create an app which assists the Western Cape Government in delivering on its “Red Tape to Red Carpet” promise to reduce red tape. The goal was to create an app that allows business owners to report challenges with red tape eg getting tax clearance certificates, via social media and “in the moment”. This will assist the Department of Economic Development in getting data on what the problems are. The intention would be to then integrate this into the Red Carpet Call Centre to follow up.

According to Cape IT Initiative Executive Director, Jenny McKinnell, “the goal of GovHackSA is not to create a fully working application on one the day, but rather to make a positive start, and more importantly, to help government see that the local Western Cape IT community can develop applications that help government solve its problems using software. Ultimately though, the goal is to begin to build a cooperative, collaborative relationship between the Cape IT community and local and regional government that will create the win-win of government getting software that helps solve their problems in meeting citizen needs and the startup community getting access to government data and access to government as a customer.”

The Judging panel consisted of Andy Volk (Mxit) and Lelany Sommers (Blackberry), with input from Jenny McKinnell (CITI). The team that won was “Fix my Red Tape”. The winning group (pictured above) consisted of Tony Mwebaze, Peter Phillip and Timothy Mchabeleng. The runners-up were from “Events App” (that “eventthing”) – Tim, Tracey, Philip and Jonathan.

The winners walked away with an opportunity to expand on their application with Government, be fast tracked into the Mxit Kickstart programme — if they develop their app on the MXIT platform — entry into Startup Weekend (which happens at the BandwidthBarn from 17 – 19 November) and the possibility of collaborating with government in making a difference to how services get delivered to citizens.

“The #GovHackSA Hackathon provided a great environment for developers to compete amongst each other, understand government’s challenges, learn from one another, experiment with building on existing code and APIs, and see how fast they can develop applications,” said Lianne du Toit, organiser of #GovHackSA.

The next Hackathon will run in the first quarter of 2013.



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