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Fla. CFO Atwater, other government leaders join #HackforChange

 Florida CFO Jeff Atwater talks with developers and designers at the LAB Miami.

Florida CFO Jeff Atwater spent his Saturday morning with a Miami coworking space full of young hackers. “I'm normally in a coat and tie -- this is dress down day for me -– but I see I have something to learn,” he joked.

The occasion was #HackforChange, part of the National Day of Civic Hacking in which technologists, designers, entrepreneurs and  nonprofit and government leaders come together to hack technological solutions to community problems by using using open government data. South Florida’s event at The LAB Miami in Wynwood, put on by Code for Miami, attracted about 100 participants. Also onhand were Mike Sarasti, program manager with Miami-Dade County, and Miami City Manager Daniel Alfonso.  Miami-Dade County also recently partnered with Code for America, and a trio of fellows is working on civic projects for a year.

Hackers with two all-volunteer groups, Code for Miami and Code for Fort Lauderdale, meet about one evening a week to work on civic projects, such as an inexpensive bus traffic application that was developed recently. For this full day event, teams were working on challenges such as climate change, transportation and disaster relief -– all hot-button issues in Miami. They will likely continue working on their projects in the weekly gatherings.

But the state challenge put forth by Atwater on Saturday was the first time state data has been used in a hacking challenge. Six years of state vendor payment data was made available to civic hackers to come up with solutions on how to best use the data to result in improved services. "Imagine if we could turn loose on the state of Florida an understanding of how this all works?," Atwater said in opening remarks to the event participants. "You are going to give us a chance to open a new window to get better at what we do, to service Floridians better, to make us better."

Atwater explained that $50  billion of the $80 billion state budget goes to vendors to provide services  and it would be useful to have a better way to read and understand the vendor payment data in order to help a variety of constituencies, including the press, determine whether the public’s money is being used optimally.

 “The data will help present the questions that need to be asked,” Atwater explained to a group of hackers who were brainstorming solutions. "There will be no place to hide."

The hackers will work on the their challenges all day and then present them to the group in the early evening. Organizations in  Orlando, Tampa and Jacksonville as well as around the nation are also working on challenges. Unlike other hackathons, there are no prizes, no winners. "We are about collaboratiion, not competition," said Code for Miami co-captain Cristina Solana.

“You are putting your skills into action to help your neighbors and that means a lot,” Code for Miami co-captain Rebekah Monson told the crowd to kick off #HackforChange. “You want Miami to change, you want Florida to change, … and you are the people make it happen.”

After the event, Solana said there were two concepts developing using the state vendor data that would help visualize department spending. Other concepts included an application for mapping chemicals in water, another for helping you find a safe place during a natural disaster via text or online, and several ideas aimed at improving mass-transit usage or efficiency.
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 Another group at The LAB Miami brainstorms disaster relief applications. Photos by Nancy Dahlberg