Monday, March 7, 2016

City celebrates Open Data Day with Regional Hackathon


Over 150 people packed into City Hall this weekend to celebrate International Open Data Day with a Hackathon hosted by The City of Calgary and the Calgary Regional Partnership. Over the course of the weekend, thirty five teams put their heads together to create apps and websites using open data from municipalities across the Calgary region.

"This event gives citizens the opportunity to be innovative, challenge the norms, and use the resources that we already have available in new and thoughtful ways," says Walter Simbirski, Open Data Strategist with The City of Calgary.

“We believe that in opening up government data, we can achieve increased efficiency, increased innovation, and increased transparency – with the goal of making the community better and serving citizens better every single day.”

Teams were judged on a number of criteria including citizen value, a score that assessed the product’s ability to show economic, social, or environmental benefits to the community. After three days of intense brainstorming, programming and pitching, three teams came out on top as this year’s Hackathon winners.

CycloConnect: Ellyn DuMont, Linh Duong, and Maha Jamil
1. CycloConnect
A crowd sourced app for bicyclists to plan their routes and monitor the availability of bike storage around the Calgary region.
Team members: Ellyn DuMont, Linh Duong, and Maha Jamil

2. Plugin Calgary
A citizen engagement tool for municipalities to provide challenges based on their environmental, social, and economic programs and participants would collect points for completing challenges.
Team members: Jill Langer, Ireti Fakinlede, and Stella Lee

3. Transit Krowd
A near-time data collection app that allows bus riders to see how full their upcoming bus is, and share information about the condition of buses, trains, and transportation shelters around the region.
Team members: Teddy Seyed, Abhishek Sharma, Alaa Azazi

The Calgary Region Hackathon was an opportunity to promote the use of open data, and encourage citizens to create innovative solutions to deliver City services in a more efficient and effective manner. Open data refers to data that is available to the public at no cost, and can be used for any purpose including commercial use.

For more information on The City of Calgary’s Open Data Catalogue, visit data.calgary.ca.

26 comments:

  1. The idea was there, the data was not. Some of the finalists barely scraped the data, and the lack of implementation wasn't very fitting of a hackathon. It seemed like the general consensus was that the majority of our time was spent on parsing the data, rather than analyzing it in a useful way. As someone from Calgary, I had high hopes and motivation for this hackathon.

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    1. Thank you for the constructive feedback and for your participation in the Hackathon. We are currently working on improving the functionality of our open data catalogue and will be launching a new platform later this year.

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    2. I wanna see how much city spends on this RFP. There should be FOIP request as soon as they award this RFP. I wanna see data for ever individual and all the effort city is putting into generating these CSVs!

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  2. There was more value put on the ideas put forward than the implementation itself. While the ideas were decent, the purpose of a hackathon is to produce a product in a weekend. Ideas are only the tip of the iceberg of work required to get a product out the door. Delivery is where the hard work lies. None of the 3 finalists have a functioning product, and other teams who did have completed products did not even place in the top 6? It doesn't look like the judging was done according to the criteria provided. There was a great turnout to the hackathon, but the results were extremely disappointing. Are these finalists are to be the representation of the best of the brightest software development talent in the city?

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    1. Thanks for your feedback. The purpose of our event is to promote the use of open data to create products that demonstrate value to our citizens and community. As you can see from the judging criteria, only 25% of the score is allocated to the proof of concept and teams can receive partial marks even if they do not have a working prototype. We understand that similar Hackathon events may place a stronger emphasis on working prototypes, and we will consider this for future events.

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    2. Very disappointed that there was very limited emphasis put on the final product delivered. The top finalists effectively did not use the open data catalog from Calgary or the CRP. And if they did it was simply referencing the list of communities in Calgary or something minor like that. We were lead to believe that the emphasis was on using Open Data provided by the city. Let's not forget that this is a Hackathon, not a Pitchathon. Yes the pitch is important, but the focus should be on the software, not just the idea. Finally, I think we can all agree that one of the finalists did not develop their app over the weekend. They had a polished app with proprietary complex algorithms, a separate mobile app, and a very polished presentation with pictures. Really nice guys, and I hope they continue with their idea, but again lets not forget the rules that we were asked to abide by and that it is a weekend Hackathon, not an apps showcase from what people bring into the competition. I think the City of Calgary has a duty to uphold the rules to avoid discouraging future developers from entering the competition.

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    3. +1. totally agree with Anonymous. I feel like city needs better judges who understand startups and hackathons. Also please keep the size lot smaller. I wanted to hear other presentations too but had no opportunity. I also didn't like how questions from audience were silenced and not given any opportunity to ask. Most guys from city were too enterprisy. When judges came to our table, we had to explain them snapchat and yik-yak. That was the point I lost hope for any chances of making it for any prizes. Feel like I wasted three days and minuscule value I got from it. What a joke!

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    4. "Finally, I think we can all agree that one of the finalists did not develop their app over the weekend."

      I watched them develop it, as both our teams worked overnight elsewhere on the weekend. Lots of takeout, delivery, and caffeine was involved. I was blown away by the initial impression left by the graphics, but I guess that's down to finding the right libraries and having experience with them. If you think about the algorithms, they aren't really that complex. It was a combination of transit data and some basic stats.

      Anyways, agree with everything else you said. If I can make their prototype with 3 slides in PowerPoint, they probably shouldn't have made the top 6 at a hackathon.

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  3. Even though we didn't make it to the finals, I had a lot of fun at this event. My team mate was nice enough to let me use the content on yycOpen.com so it was a success for our team.

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  4. I will agree with the sentiments from comments above. I was also very disappointed. At the beginning of the weekend we were told specifically that we would have to actually create a product with some "meat on it" and the whole essence of a hackathon is to deliver a viable working prototype. I feel a lot of the top teams were not judged at all on their technical/visual merit.

    I was disappointed that the judging stage was done in a subjective manor with paired judges only seeing a handful of teams each. The particular judging pair you got could drastically modify your score. Also no feedback was given to the teams about what their score was or what they could have improved on.

    Going forward I think you guys should allow all teams to present to everyone or possibly have a peer judging system. It was also disappointing not being able to see all the other teams projects after all of us had worked a very long weekend. I find it difficult for the city to promote the theme of connectivity if even the teams participating in the event did not know what the other participating project ideas were.

    The premise of the event was great and was nice to see so many people come out but the end of the weekend left a sour taste for me and many of my teammates which ultimately may prevent me from joining future events going forward. I hope you can take some of my suggestions and make a better event for next year.

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  5. Very well said. Going forward I hope city just sponsors the event but not try to do this themselves because it seems it is just about media publicity for them.

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  6. Sounds more like the city selected "apps" that fit into their vision of projects they've been pushing themselves.

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  7. Unless they put an emphasis on how they will be changing judging next year, I highly doubt any experienced developers will put themselves through this again just to be beat by teams with little more than powerpoint slides.

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  8. Everyone is missing the point here. They clearly mentioned in the opening remarks that they are looking for creativity, it could be a map , could be an app, anything completely to partly working. Creating a complete working product with minimal economic, social, and environmental benefits is less in worth than a partial product with more potential benefits.
    Another thing to keep in mind is, the products of top three finalist were supporting City of Calgary's initiatives, and the winner team actually provided a free of cost data collection method for the City, which a huge economic benefit.
    I believe, most of the teams were lacking GIS expertise, which is very crucial when it comes to open data.

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    1. Our team had developers with GIS experience. We manipulated data in both SHP and KML formats, normalized it into a database into a usable format. I'm sure others did as well. The open data was readily available for months before the competition. There was lots of time to perform spikes on manipulating the data, and understanding what you can or cannot do with the data formats.

      Was the end goal to collect information for the city? Or to provide value to its citizens? Even if the concept was a product that COULD collect data for the city, there is no functioning product to prove the concept. The proof of concept part is the core of what a hackathon is. No, it is not 100% of the score, but is enough of the score that NOT having one should not put you in the top 50%.

      This was the judging criteria:
      25 points for ecnomonic/social/environment benefits
      25 points for functionality (proof of concept)
      25 points for originality
      25 points for connectivity

      There are lots of ideas that are just that - ideas. Turning an idea into a product, and marketing it in a way that people will use it is more difficult than coming up with the concept on its own. There are many development and usability issues with the top 3 winning concepts that were not considered during judging.

      If the city is looking for ideas, then don't market the competition to developers. It's insulting for senior developers in the city to take time away from their families to be involved in an event that places no value on the development portion.

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    2. When you think about it the way the scoring was setup, you have 75% based on the idea alone. Teams should have just brainstormed all weekend instead of programmed. Should not be called a hackathon.

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  9. Thank you for your open and honest comments here. We want to get better and better at hosting these events and making them valuable and a great experience for everyone.

    Our first two events have focused on being inclusive for all skill levels, and have placed only 25% of the scoring criteria on the working prototype. But we’re hearing that this might not be the best approach for future events.

    We will be sending a survey to all Hackathon participants later this week as an opportunity for you to provide your additional comments. We recommend that you use the survey as the primary place to share your feedback so that it gets captured in our debrief and planning for the next event. Once again, we really appreciate honest, constructive feedback.

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    1. Unfortunately, surveys wouldn't let future would-be coders know what to expect the next time around. I find that forums do a much better job of warning others in the future. I had considered joining the event, but now I'm glad I didn't waste my time and skill. Ideas are a dime a dozen. Execution is what counts in innovation. It is clear that this was an event by and for bureaucrats (tons of ideas, zero execution). If Calgary want's to sit at the adults' table, it needs to let the adults make the decisions.

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  10. Personally, I think the hackathon has an great future in Calgary and it will undoubtedly get better each year, so I thank the City of Calgary for taking the effort to host such an event! They have been very open-minded to suggestions and should be commended for that. I don't think this was mentioned yet here, but hopefully they can more openly disclose next time whether they give preference to apps that the City could offer as a government service versus an app that could operate as a profitable standalone business. It seemed that all the top-3 winners were a government service and that made some contestants concerned of there being a bias in judging - whether conscious or not. This is only the second event and so I think they are still working out the kinks in the format and judging process. Maybe they need some private-sector judges to balance things out? There is definitely room for improvement in the scoring and judging system, but I still very much look forward to participating again next year.

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  11. If you are awarding teams based on just ideas and not execution, then don't market the event to only developers. Its an insult to the people who can actually create content.

    Also, its a City sponsored event using taxpayer dollars. Make it public so people can come and visit all of the booths.

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  12. If the city wants to attract more entries for next year's event, then the judging criteria should be followed more consistently. I am afraid the city has scared off a lot of talent for future competitions because the weekend was not organized that well.

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    1. There is a lot of work that goes into organizing an event like this that we as participants would not be able to see. It's always easy to see when things go wrong, but don't notice when things run smoothly.

      I don't really know if the judging criteria was followed or not. Judging can be so subjective, that it's really hard to say. I'm sure that they judged the submissions with the best of their knowledge at the time.

      I am one of the developers who was upset at the end because we did have a working app, and I did feel insulted with the results, but honestly, we had tons of fun during the weekend until the judging portion. How often do you get to hang out with your buddies, drink red bull, eat junk food, and challenge yourself for an entire weekend? The rest of the event went quite smoothly, and the organizers are taking so much time now to make sure that our voices are all heard. Really, that's all we can ask at this point.

      The results of this year's hackathon are what they are. There's nothing we can do about that now. Let's, as senior software developers in the city, provide constructive feedback so that next year's hackathon can be what we were looking for.

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  13. To the anons making posts regarding having a "finished" application.

    I don't know if you fully understand what goes into making such an "application". I am an architect by trade, and I was amazed to learn about coding through the hackathon working with my team. My team was highly skilled - and we were able to make a working prototype (webapp) to describe our idea. In order to actually "build a working application" takes much longer then two days - actually building a working application that is native to certain devices takes a much longer time, because you need to be constantly monitoring, updating, fixing etc. With my new found knowledge of coding, accomplishing this in two days is impossible. What was accomplishing during the Hackathon, was the bringing together of two worlds - the cities open data catalog, and skilled local developers who now know about this resource and how to access it. The benefits do not end with the end of the hackathon - but rather an awareness and partnership is further established between coders and the city.

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    1. There are different frameworks, technologies, and processes that make a huge difference in the time it take to launch a product. It's not impossible, but it does take a skilled team, with the correct technology choices, and proper preparation, to build a working application in a weekend.

      There are many definitions of what a finished application looks like. An experienced team would create a scope for a minimum viable product that can be developed over the timeframe provided. Time, budget, and technology, are all constraints that face every development team on every project. A hackathon just imposes these in an extreme manner, to see how the team adapts. Not impossible, just difficult, but that's the challenge we were looking for.

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  14. Just as an example, I have re-created the winning submission in Google Maps. This took me less than 5 mins and required me not to write a single line of code:

    https://www.google.com/maps/d/u/2/edit?hl=en&hl=en&authuser=2&authuser=2&mid=za7LYIg6yb-4.kOMi3zdFOWMM

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    1. Finally someone said it!

      In addition to this they claimed there was 'no data' on the bike racks in Calgary when there are over 300 bike stands with latitude's and longitude's in the Data Catalog. I know this first hand because our team actually went through EVERY data set to see what was available in addition to using this data-set to offer similar functionality that the winning app had.

      This year's hacakathon was a joke as it was clear as day that the judging was done not on the rules but based on what would give the city a good 'PR Win'.

      Since the event several of our team members have come across posts on software development forms and Reddit talking about how horribly the event was run with a few people even stating that when they spoke to one of the "old grumpy" organizers and offered to help make the data catalog easier to access they were told "We're not interested its fine as it is.".

      On a positive note there was one organizer (Jessica) our team found was extremely positive and helpful throughout the event with all our questions about the data catalog and its inconsistencies; without her there we likely would of left after the first day.

      I seriously hope next year's event isn't such a joke.

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