Government groups tap civic ‘hackers’ to address problems

A mayoral office wants fewer phone calls about garbage.

Highway and police agencies want to chart out the most accident-prone corridors.

Local and state programs, in general, have copious amounts of facts and figures they need organized.

The government groups plan to turn dozens of computer experts loose on floods of public data in hopes of finding solutions to these problems—or any others they didn’t already think of.

A collection of tech firms and business organizations will host a “hackathon” on Saturday at The Speak Easy, a Broad Ripple co-working club for entrepreneurs.

As part of the National Day of Civic Hacking, a maxed-out crowd of 140 people at Indy Civic Hack Day will field challenges from the Indianapolis Mayor’s Action Center, Indiana Department of Transportation and other government agencies.

Organizers will then provide the hackers with all the public data they have in hopes some of it will birth software solutions.

“This is not just an academic exercise. We want real-world solutions,” said Matt Kirby, one of the event’s coordinators and director of business attraction and development for Develop Indy.

A handful of officials have come up with specific issues they want to address. The Mayor’s Action Center, for instance, wants to reduce the number of phone calls with frequent, basic questions about trash service, such as “when is pickup?”

“If we can find a way to use public data that’s already available, we can actually help increase customer service,” said Marc Lotter, a spokesman for Mayor Greg Ballard’s office.

Or hackathon participants can think up their own social issues they want to remedy.

Participants will hear the challenges and set themselves to task after opening remarks in the morning. They will spend most of the day coding while technology professionals from established companies, such as Interactive Intelligence and Healthx, float around dispensing advice.

A “show and tell” in the evening will feature the day’s projects. Judges will select a winner who will receive a cash prize in an amount to be announced Saturday. The winner also gets to present at pop-culture convention Pop Con on Sunday at the Indiana Convention Center, among other awards.

And government representatives will be on the lookout for technology they actually want to implement.

Saturday’s hackathon at The Speak Easy will be among more than 100 similar events nationwide, as well as a handful abroad. Two others are scheduled in Indiana: one in South Bend and one in Fort Wayne.

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