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Unlocking New Value from Government Data

Everyone likes friendly competition.

Over the weekend of November 2, Code for America hosted a hackathon competition dubbed “Data DeathMatch!” to provide hackers an opportunity to build apps utilizing fresh, newly opened data from the Fair Practice Political Commission (FPPC), the preeminent government watchdog of fair election practices, and education data from San Francisco Bay Area Schools.

Our goal was to provide developers, designers, and community advocates resources and space to help make these datasets accessible and usable by citizens in new ways. These datasets were provided to hackers via the APIs of two Code for America Accelerator companies – Captricity and LearnSprout. The FPPC data centered on the 2011 economic interest filings of judges (as well as campaign contributions data from the Secretary of State) and the education data spanned everything from attendance to grade performance of local SFUSD schools (the data was masked to protect student privacy).

Why was this a “DeathMatch?”

We structured the hackathon with a competitive element not just in between teams but also between sides (team education v. team civic hackers!). The best app overall from either side won a grand cash prize ($500 for overall winner, $250 for each track winner) and delicious treats for their side. Furthermore, the winners in each track received press and the opportunity to present their apps to either the FPPC or a school for consideration of actual use.

Hackathon attendees received both startup mentors who could mentor them around the usage the APIs available, as well as leaders from the FPPC and the education community to explain and give context to the data.

Hackathon Apps

After a blitz of hacking, five teams demoed their apps. Teams, like one dubbed Seatbelts, Everyone! built everything from an app that would track student progress and suggest additional coursework, to a simple script that would clean the Secretary of State data brought by the FPPC. The FPPC was so impressed by Tam, the lone hacker who cleaned the SOS data, they invited him to apply for a job with them in Sacramento.

“The CfA hackathon was actually the first one I’ve ever attended, and I couldn’t have asked for a better way to start…One of my career priorities is to work on useful tools that impact society at large, and given that education is one of my favorite areas to work in, this whole experience was fantastic for me.”

  • Priyanka Pathak, team Seatbelts, Everyone!

Team Open Judge, which won the hackathon’s grand cash prize and an opportunity to have their app used by the FPPC, created a web and mobile platform to search for information about judges and the gifts they receive. The resource includes a data visualization dashboard view of top gift receivers and a mobile app that provides tweetable breakout of individual gifts that allows citizens to share out the data as well as the opportunity to see which gifts are gathering the strongest interest on social media platforms. You can learn more about the teams working on civic data via Captricity’s blog on the hackathon.

We were incredibly proud of the energy and enthusiasm exhibited by the participants, Accelerator companies, and our community partners. We greatly appreciated Ann Ravel and Tina Bass for representing the FPPC and mentoring the startups. James Sanders, Innovation Manager at Kipp Bay Area Schools, gave a great talk on the imperative of working on open education data, as well as Phil Trounstein of the online news site Calbuzz, who hammered on the importance of the data hackers were working on. They all went above and beyond by not only lending their time to speak, but also to mentor the teams.

The energy and dedication we received from the hackers who participated and the civic startups who participated was incredible, and we look forward to supporting further events involving open data hackers and civic startups.


Questions? Comments? Hit us up @codeforamerica.