It's time to once again brave the cold of Canberra for a weekend of hacking! Whilst it would be more fun to be spending the weekend hacking a top-secret mainframe, unfortunately that's not what this sort of hacking is all about. So for the moment, the secret as to what happened to Harold Holt after he went for a swim and who has the Maltese Falcon, will remain safely hidden in the depths of the top secret bunker under Parliament House for the time being...
Instead, GovHack is a weekend all about hacking together ideas and code in a useful manner to do something productive and constructive with huge government datasets. If you have some free time and you don't know what to do with yourself, why not check out http://www.data.gov.au/ . There's over 30,000 freely available government datasets found here for you to get creative with. Everything from health stats to wave heights out at sea make up this enormous collection of data. Sadly, despite trying, I couldn't find anything about the second gunmen on the grassy knoll or the current whereabouts of the magic pudding.
Whilst last year's experience at GovHack was an amazing one, it was somewhat overwhelming as a first time participant, from the point of view I had no idea how the weekend was going to play out. However, that was part of the excitement, not knowing who I was going to meet or what I was actually going to be doing. This time however, it's exciting for a different reason. Now I kind of know what I'm doing and with that knowledge, I know exactly what time I need to line up for food before the crowd arrives.
Despite having this advantage over others for the food line, the real excitement for me comes back to the fact that whilst I know how it all works this time around from a logistical point of view, the datasets are different, the projects will be different, the challenges and prizes will be different and the team might be different. Once you throw in all these new variables it's an entirely new challenge and experience.
This can be seen as a reflection on how technology is shaping our lives in such a dramatic way. Whilst in the past, experience could make you an expert in a certain area and from one year to the next it wouldn’t change much. For example, if you read lots of books on ancient Rome, you would most likely be an authority on the subject. However, 12 months on since the last GovHack challenge, technology has changed, the world has move forward, (with the exception of North Korea) and what I thought I was reasonably good with back then, I find has completely changed by now. No longer can we get away with creating a mash up of bus schedules and Pokémon Go stops, because literally nobody cares about Pokémon Go anymore. Whilst this might be a wonderful reflection on the progress our society has made in a year, one good thing the game did, was that it got a lot of shut-ins out of their windowless basements and running around town chasing imaginary creatures.
Despite the shifting sands of technology, game fads and social media, no matter how much the world changes, there remain some key educational groundings and skills that are essential for the challenge of GovHack. Being able to analyse and solve real-world problems is what this weekend is all about. Forget the technology, as I said, it constantly changes and so with that, you just have to accept the inevitable change and realise that is now just another variable in the problem-solving process.
For anyone considering going to something like this, it is a fantastic experience and is of immense educational value. You will learn more in one weekend problem solving with others, than you will in six months in a classroom. Even if you know nothing about the technology, it's your ability to look at a problem in a unique way and find creative solutions that will lead you to success. This is really a microcosm of what mainstream education should be about. As the world changes so rapidly, education needs to realise this and catch up with the fact that teachers need to be teaching students how to be looking at problems, considering options and working out solutions.
If you haven't already got yourself organised to go to a GovHack event, then get to right now to do something about it. Find your nearest location and register to attend, because it will be one of the most memorable weekends of your year. If in the process, you happen to find out who has the Maltese Falcon, I am willing to pay handsomely for that information…