Houston Hackathon

4th Annual City of Houston Hackathon Roundup

On the weekend of May 13-15, a crowd of local data nerds, coders, hackers, and generally civic minded residents gathered together at the Houston Technology Center to build cool things, share ideas, and above all, eat free food at the 4th Annual City of Houston Hackathon.

This 4th iteration of what is becoming a must attend event, featured over 200 attendees that worked diligently over the course of 24 hours fueled on coffee, civic responsibility and the aforementioned free food to build 15 very impressive applications.

You can read more about the four finalists by following the links below. Each winner will have the chance to present their project to Mayor Sylvester Turner.

  • Johns Beware - A project dedicated to ending sex trafficking by reducing demand, supporting law enforcement, and creating awareness.
  • District Finder API - This API allows other applications to find all sorts of political districts for a provided latitude and longitude.
  • Invoice Dashboard - Imagine you’re a vendor doing business with an organization that is based only in one city but has 22 AP groups.
  • Task Bounty - Service marketplace to empower and employ local citizens to address local municipal issues.

A huge thank you to all the sponsors and everyone that came to support the event at the Houston Technology Center! You can get the full list of shout-outs over on Sketch City's blog.

More information can be found about all of the projects at: http://2016houstonhackathon.devpost.com/submissions

If you are interested in getting involved with Civic Technology or attending future hack nights, please reach out to our partners in these efforts: Sketch City.

Kurt leads improvement projects, performs ad-hoc data analysis, and provides high-level strategic insight for the division. Kurt received his Master of Public Administration and his Bachelor of Arts from Oklahoma State University. Prior to joining the City, Kurt managed analytics for Waste Management’s Energy Services customer segment, delivering insights into customer profitability, pricing strategy, service delivery optimization, and mergers and acquisitions strategy. Kurt has been at the City previously and was one of the inaugural members of the Performance Improvement Division. Kurt is Lean Six Sigma Black Belt certified and has led various projects throughout the city. In his free time, he likes to play basketball, ping pong and board games and enjoys trying new restaurants with his wife, Brittany.

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Hackathon Experiences Across the Spectrum

The City of Houston hosted its third annual citywide Hackathon at the Houston Technology Center last weekend. More than 400 civic-minded technology professionals, students and hobbyists completed 29 projects over the course of the 24-hour event, making this one of the largest and most successful city-sponsored Hackathons in history.There was not only a variety of projects but also people that attended the hackathon so we thought it would be interesting to put all their experiences in a blog post.

Co-Organizer Perspective

They say if you want to be smart, surround yourself with smart people. Nowhere is this truer than at the citywide Hackathon. My favorite part is being able to engage with the brightest minds on ways to improve life in Houston, and then going beyond simply talking about the issues into the realm of doing something about them. Going from room-to-room, I sat with the MyHPD team that was generating an app that could potentially revolutionize the ways citizens interact with police officers – an issue that is on the top of everybody’s mind. I watched in amazement as Micah Stubbs made the City’s organizational chart come to life. I brainstormed ideas with the Campaign Finance team on how to make the flow of political contributions more visible and open to the public. All of the teams I came across were thinking BIG and transforming those ideas into action. That is the power of civic innovation.

Veteran Project Winner Experience

The City of Houston Hackathon is one of the premier events of the year for me. As both a resident of Houston and a City of Houston employee whose job revolves around improving our operations, being able leverage the collective brain power of hundreds of energized and talented Houstonians to analyze and improve City data and services is an experience unlike any other. This year’s Hackathon highlighted for me how important it is for optimized City operations. Why? Citizens are demanding more and more mobile applications – as evident in this year’s projects – that provide on-demand services and data. To meet these expectations, our operations have to be up to the challenge of providing responsive service that meets the mark each time; this means reducing wait time, eliminating error rates, and reducing wasted effort in processes. I look forward to seeing how this year’s crop of Hackathon projects push us as an organization to improve and offer even better services to the citizens of Houston.

Newbie Experience

As a newbie Hackathoner I was truly happy to participate in the city's hackathon. It was an exhilarating experience to see how everybody came together and contributed to improve our city one small piece at a time. I am going to actively work to increase hackathon awareness throughout the city.

Hackathon Project Creator Experience

Come ready with a scope. It doesn’t have to be super detailed but at least come with some thoughts and goals outlined of what you want to accomplish. Be ready to pitch this idea in a short elevator-pitch-style that will make participants want to join your project. Keep your scope/goals attainable for the hackathon, meaning you can deliver something in 24 hours, and also leave your project scope scalable too so that it can be adopted by and integrated easily into a new business -- or in our case -- city department or project. 

If you missed the hackathon, have no fear. There is a monthly hack night on July 7th at 6PM at the Houston Technology Center. Come join the fun! More details about hack night can be found at http://www.meetup.com/open-houston.

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Houston Hackathon Idea Series: Restaurant inspection data

As the City of Houston prepares for the 3rd Annual Houston Hackathon, we will be highlighting a variety of potential projects that you can work on. This week we are highlighting a project around restaurant inspections.

Houston is a food city. We’ve been called the most dynamic food city in the U.S. by Departures magazine. There are so many restaurant choices that choosing where to eat can feel overwhelming. You could pick a restaurant based on reviews or recommendations by friends, but how do you know if the restaurant is clean and up to health inspection standards?

Currently, the interface to look-up restaurant inspection violations looks like this: http://houston.tx.gegov.com/media/search.cfm. We think it could be a lot better...

What if there was a map that showed all open restaurant inspection violations? What if there was a rating system developed and restaurant inspection scores were posted on Yelp? What if you scraped Twitter for potential incidents of food poisoning and gave it to the heath department? Food safety is an important and overlooked topic in public health. With your help, we can improve the public's ability to sort out the clean and dirty restaurants.

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Houston Hackathon Project Winner Debuts: Nuisance Tracker

The winning project of the 2nd Annual Houston Hackathon will make its debut on the City’s webpage this week. Nuisance Tracker is a map that allows all citizens to view open code enforcement violations—such as, graffiti, weeded lots, junk motor vehicles, and many more—throughout the City of Houston. The map is searchable by: specific addresses, 311 Service Requests, HCAD properties, Council Districts, or by simply zooming into violations as you normally would on a Google map. When you zoom in on a violation address the map provides you with a status of the violation and the City's actions to resolve.

Check out the project on the “My City Maps” webpage, starting March 19th:Nuisance Tracker Map

Since its inception, the Houston Hackathon has generated strong turnout from the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) community. Following the completion of each Hackathon, City employees work tirelessly to implement the winning projects and live up to Mayor Annise Parker’s earlier promise when she said, “We want to use the applications and insights that are created at the Hackathon as soon as possible.” The next Houston Hackathon will be held on May 16-17, 2015 at the Houston Technology Center, help spread the word.

Paul Fagin is a Staff Analyst for the City of Houston Finance Department and is a member of the Performance Improvement Division. Paul received his Master of Public Administration from Texas A&M University and his Bachelor of Arts from the University of Texas at Austin.

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Houston Hackathon Roundup

Last weekend boasted many outdoor activities from Free Press Summer Fest to Sunday Streets, however, I spent my weekend indoors at the 2nd Annual City of Houston Hackathon. The hackathon is a 24-hour event where civic minded individuals share ideas and code for a cause. The cause, making the city they call home a better place. This was my first hackathon and I’m so glad I attended. The energy in the air Saturday morning was infectious and by Sunday it was clear that in 24 hours these teams had delivered some innovative high quality ideas.

This year’s hackathon registered 225 participants ranging from middle school students to veteran coders with 18 project submissions across the spectrum. Check out this cool time lapse: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9QlELgV_A8o courtesy of participant and finalist Rocco De Grazia.

There were several different categories for winners. Three finalists were chosen and will be given the opportunity to present to Mayor Annise Parker. Rice University’s Center for Civic Leadership, a sponsor of the event, chose a winner whose idea promoted civic leadership. The Boniuk Foundation, a sponsor of the event, picked an idea challenge winner, a youth winner (18 and under), and a grand prize winner.

The three finalists who will be presenting to Mayor Parker are:

1. Houston’s Blighted Properties, a map of all the property code enforcement violations that also allows people to see the history of what’s going on with those properties
2. CarEye, is a solar-powered device, installed on the windshield of your car, that detects the presence of a baby or animal inside your car, as well as high temperature conditions. It calls up to two telephone numbers to alert you before disaster strikes.
3. #SLGT, a mobile app that connects residents to local businesses and neighborhood civic engagement. Support local, grow together!

Rice University’s Center for Civic Leadership award was given to:

1. HoustonComprehensivePlan.com, a collaborative platform to arrange stakeholder input into a comprehensive plan for the City of Houston.

The Boniuk Foundation’s winners were:

1. Idea challenge winner was Culture Map
2. Youth prize went to Make Houston a Better Place, a collection of three websites created by two 6th graders (I used a typewriter in 6th grade) to make Houston cleaner, more mobile and connected.
3. Grand prize went to Culture Hunt, an app to crowdsource all the cultural hubs throughout the city.

While the cash prizes are great it’s important to look beyond that to all the participants who spent the weekend making the City of Houston a better place, and the collaboration that took place between the City of Houston and civic minded individuals. Let’s continue this groundswell to the next hackathon!

A huge thank you to all the sponsors and everyone that came to support the events this past weekend at the Houston Technology Center!

To check out all submitted projects please visit http://houstonhackathon.challengepost.com/submissions. See you next year!

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Project Update from the Houston Hackathon

The City of Houston Open Innovation Hackathon is coming to a close and judging begins at 1:00PM today at the Houston Technology Center (410 Pierce St, Houston, TX). Check out Open Houston's summary of the projects as of late last night. Submissions are due by 12:00PM noon and will be available at http://houstonhackathon.challengepost.com/submissions as they come in. Keep it tuned here as we'll release a debrief of the event in the near future along with information about the winning projects. You can learn more about this year's Hackathon by checking out the Mayor's press announcement of the event.

Frank C. Bracco is a Senior Staff Analyst for the City of Houston Finance Department and is a member of the Performance Improvement Division. Frank holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Economics from the University of Florida and a Master of Public Administration from the University of Georgia.

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Mayor Annise Parker Announces the 2nd Annual City of Houston Open Innovation Hackathon

Mayor Annise Parker Announces the 2nd Annual City of Houston Open Innovation Hackathon

Houston Technology Experts and Recreational Techies Invited to Help Solve City-Resident Issues

May 20, 2014 -- Houston Mayor Annise Parker today announced the City of Houston will host its second annual “Open Innovation Hackathon” on May 31-June 1 at the Houston Technology Center. This year’s Hackathon is also part of the National Civic Day of Hacking series of civic innovation events being hosted across the globe during the weekend. A hackathon is an event in which software developers, designers, and data analysts collaborate intensively on data and software projects. Over the course of the weekend, Houston’s "civic hackers" will pitch ideas, form teams and develop innovative new websites, mobile apps, and insightful data visualizations to address community and city problems.

"Last year's inaugural Hackathon attracted over 200 attendees, reinforcing why Houston leads the nation in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) job growth," Mayor Parker said. "The City is not only interested in sharing our data to help entrepreneurs and the community, but we also look forward to seeing high-impact projects that we can implement within city government to solve our problems and better serve the citizens."

The City has identified nearly 20 "weekend projects" that a team of software developers, designers, analysts and others could reasonably complete, ranging from an Adopt-a-Hydrant app that allows citizens to adopt city infrastructure to a project to better share restaurant inspection information with the public. To help participants prepare for these projects, datasets have been made available on an interim open data portal. Participants can also work on their own project ideas at this free Hackathon event and submit their work for review by judges on Sunday.

"Last year’s Hackathon demonstrated how creating a dialogue between City officials and the region’s technology and start-up communities can create success both inside and outside City government,” said City Council Member and Hackathon Co-Chair Ed Gonzalez. "That success has been really important to how we're thinking about technology inside the City of Houston and in the community."

The City has implemented two projects through its civic innovation efforts – Budget Bootcamp and the 311 Performance Dashboards – and its IT staff has also benefited from the exposure to new technologies and different development techniques. Last year’s Open Innovation Hackathon featured over 200 attendees and over 20 team project submissions. Citizens interested in learning more about the event are encourage to view last year’s recap video.

Further information about the City of Houston Open Innovation Hackathon, as well as registration information, is available at: http://www.houstonhackathon.com/

Frank C. Bracco is a Senior Staff Analyst for the City of Houston Finance Department and is a member of the Performance Improvement Division. Frank holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Economics from the University of Florida and a Master of Public Administration from the University of Georgia.

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Budget Bootcamp Insights: FY14 General Fund Personnel Expenditures

When the Finance Department released Budget Bootcamp as its first implemented Hackathon project, we hoped citizens would be able to better visualize and understand the City of Houston's annual operating costs. Each year, the Administration presents its proposed operating budget to City Council for review, amendments, and eventual adoption. The end result of this multi-month process is two thick budget books totaling over 900 pages in length. Budget Bootcamp attempts to condense these pages into interactive visualizations that better help explain portions of the budget and focus conversation around facts. In this case: we're going to take a look at budgeted Personnel Expenditures in the General Fund for FY14.

Civic Innovation News and Updates

It's already the end of March, and we're really excited to give you a few updates about civic innovation activities in the City of Houston:

Do you have a project idea for the upcoming hackathon? Tweet it using the hashtag #openhou!

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