OpenGov Helps Hackathon Teams Create Civic Innovation

March 9, 2015 – OpenGov


There is a special kind of kinetic energy that sparks when you shove 500 computer science and engineering students into a big room and ask them to create something new. Hackathons, by definition, are an against-all-odds event where you learn how to work with people you just met, fight sleep deprivation, and race against the clock to execute an idea you (and your teammates) have just come up with. Focus, collaboration, and flexibility are fundamental to succeeding in a hackathon.

Last month, four OpenGov engineers and I traveled to our alma mater, the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), to sponsor a student-organized, two day, 500+ student hackathon called SB Hacks. It was the largest hackathon the school has ever seen and we were lucky to be involved. Special thanks to the talented team of students who organized this event and made it possible. They did a great job bussing in hundreds of out-of-town students and providing a safe, inclusive, and energetic environment. A friend and current professor in Computer Science, Tim Sherwood, said “It’s incredible what these students have done. Doing so much without a hitch amazes me.” I couldn’t agree more.

Leading up to the hackathon, our own team was hacking away on an API created especially for SB Hacks. We loaded our API with financial data, geographic data, and even data from the U.S. Census Bureau. We wanted students to have a wide array of options to work from as they brought their ideas to fruition.

Along with the general hackathon prizes, OpenGov offered a special prize for students who could find interesting, innovative ways to present government data using OpenGov’s API and to benchmark government agencies using data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Seven teams competed for the OpenGov prize (Pebble Smartwatches and a pool party!), and these data enthusiasts did not disappoint. We saw everything from an attempt to compare city budgets to visualizing OpenGov data in an Oculus Rift Virtual Reality 3-D headset.


Leland Lee, a freshman at UC Berkeley majoring in computer science, finished in second place. Lee used OpenGov’s real-time API to build a tool that compares census data quickly across cities. Lee shared later: “The team was amazingly helpful and went beyond the call of duty to offer their coaching and expertise on our projects. And I cannot wait to start working with them to use government data sets to create visualizations that increase transparency. That’s super exciting!”

We’re also thrilled that he is joining the OpenGov engineering team this summer for an internship!


Leland and me, post hackathon

The top prize went to Andrew Wang, a sophomore Computer Science major (specializing in Bioinformatics) at UCSD, who created an interactive dashboard featuring a map of US cities. The dashboard allows a user to hover over a selected city to get additional information, including government spending data broken down by department and summary information about the city. Andrew’s pre-existing expertise in government finance data blew us away and gave him an edge for the top prize!


Andrew, our four engineers, and me following the hackathon

Another incredibly creative team used virtual reality to show OpenGov data, including per capita income for cities across the U.S., earning them a second-place finish in the overall competition. The image below shows the reality they created!


In the end, six teams competed for the OpenGov prize. I’ve listed links to each project below in case you are curious!

  1. Modern Storytime – Compare budgets of different cities around the United States in one simple, easy to use interface
  2. Run-off – Compare two cities quickly on a multitude of dimensions
  3. Data Explorer – In a 3-D world, walk around and interact with your data
  4. VoicesHeard – Crowd source your government spending budget
  5. Aemerica – View financial trends for a given city across the US
  6. Is it Safe? – Find out if a particular area is safe

Want to learn more about our incredibly smart product and engineering team here at OpenGov? Contact builders [at] opengov [dot] com or view our careers page.

Category: OpenGov Updates