My first hackathon

Last month (6/1 & 6/2) I participated in a two day hackathon at the T-Rex tech incubator in downtown St. Louis. It was part of the nation-wide National Day of Civic Hacking, and in collaboration with Random Hacks of Kindness. The goal was to bring local developers and civic leaders/citizens together to identify specific problems facing the city, and then form teams to work on building a tool to help solve the problem, with a focus on making use of open data. You can find a write-up about the event here, as well as coverage in the local KSDK TV news here.

The event was kicked off by the main organizers Drew Winship (CEO of Juristat) and Jon Leek (of IDC Projects), who outlined the plan for the weekend (see also  @HackforStL).  We first gathered into groups to brainstorm possible projects, and then voted on which ones to pursue and then formed project teams. I had gone in hoping to do a project related to crime data, and it turned out there were several other developers who also were interested in giving better access and insight to local neighborhood data.

The core idea we came up with was to build a tool to let citizens better understand the general livability profile of their neighborhoods. We would do this by aggregating various types of data, such as crime stats, socio-economic indicators, and proximity data (i.e. how close is the nearest grocery store, park, cafe, etc), and then assign block-level regions a normalized set of values according to how prominent a given feature is for that region. This then would allow us to cluster regions together based on this livability profile. Our short term objective for the weekend was to build a simple prototype web app focusing only on crime data, while our longer term goal is to develop an extensible data aggregation framework that could support a larger app ecosystem. We made a valiant effort, but didn't get quite as far as we'd hoped. I think we did a great job, given that none of us had ever met before and we had no pre-conceived project plan before starting.

At the end of the weekend, the several participating teams gathered together to present our projects and results. All of the teams did great work, but the winning team really stood out, executing really well on a creative idea to try to make it much easier for homeless persons to successfully find shelter and assistance. The team has since created a web page: