Thoughts on Atlanta's Govathon 2013

I participated in Atlanta's Govathon 2013 a few months ago. It was fun at times, frustrating at times and overall I thought a pretty good experience for the city's first civic-minded hackaton. City workers and a few citizens pitched a variety of ideas at the beginning of the event. Many were interesting.

Presentations and Team Selection

During team selection, I looked around at the teams to see what deficiencies they had – what kind of team members where they missing? I could participate as a front-end developer or an interaction designer so I kept a wide eye open looking for teams where I could make the most impact regardless of my role.

I chose the team for Civic Spaces because the team had it's idea generator (the original idea person and presenter) and 5-6 developers; I knew they needed design help. I settled in with the team and we began to work. The devs discussed frameworks and processes and I worked with our leader to flush out what this project was to become.

First Evening Sketching and Tech Issues

I spent the rest of the evening doing sketches (see here and here) to work out the interactions and user flow for our prototype. The devs worked on the technical solution for an MVP and dealt with a variety of technical issues (bad WiFi, github issues) throughout the evening. Hopefully we all learned that you can't let a lack of WiFi or other tech issues get in the way of moving the idea forward. Those delays negatively impacted the amount of work we were able to get done over the weekend.

Day Two at Hypepotamus

The next day we met at Hypepotamus to continue our work and prepare for the presentation that afternoon. As the morning progressed it was clear that we were a little off schedule and unlikely to have all the functionality we desired in our MVP.

Ultimately we got enough together to be able to present but some of these issues had me thinking about how we could have been more successful over the weekend.

Lessons Learned

  1. Sell your idea.
  2. Appoint a leader and define clear roles.
  3. Agree on a plan for your final presentation.
  4. Don't forget UX.

Additionally I would prefer to focus on idea development, sketching and project planning instead of generating code. I think that would have helped gain more momentum behind the project than a partially-functional prototype.

Future Goals

Looking forward to future city hackathons, I think the Govathon management team needs to resolve a few issues. One of the most obvious is code ownership. When the weekend finishes, who owns the code base and resources produced by the teams? Who will be responsible for moving the successful projects forward, beyond the weekend's event?

Additionally, I would like to see a shift of focus toward well-defined (and communicated) ideas and executable plans. That doesn't mean code should not be generated but I believe in some cases, that effort overshadowed the efforts of getting the idea clearly defined and presenting it well enough on the final day to launch the project beyond the initial weekend.

I hope we see more events like this getting the citizens engaged in improving their local government and city workings.