Reflecting on #govHack

A fortnight ago, I gave up a little bit of time to see if I could engage hackers in using cultural heritage data, either to enhance a project or to be the basis for one.

This year’s#govHackWA was held in a new space, and included a link to a regional centre, Geraldton. After four years, it has become far more slick and professional, which was needed with the large number of entrants, but meant that some of the more social components of the weekend had gone by the wayside (the introduction and welcome from the central committee sounded more like phoning a government organisation with a long phone menu, than the somewhat quirky presentation by @pia_waugh of earlier years).  We shared information via Slack, an internet relay chat system with pretensions of grandeur, and the data sets needed to be on the various data portals a week ahead of the competition (rather than on a thumbdrive or harddrive brought in at the last minute).

The Slack channels worked well, enabling information, advice and requests to be shared with a large or small group as required. I have some concerns about these sorts of channels for more formal communication, particularly from a government recordkeeping perspective, but it was an effective tool for a specific project. There was a specific channel for project ideas, so I was able to suggest a few things, one of which, I think, was incorporated into the ihero project, about facial recognition of WWI photographs.

The data portals are clearly identified on the various government websites, with a link to each state from the Commonwealth portal, which shows how data can be connected across jurisdictions. However, I found the quality of the datasets to be variable, and I do wonder how many of them have longevity or usefulness either because of the specificity of the data collected, or the format in which the data is presented (but this is a discussion for another day). Nevertheless, by searching keywords in the data portals I was able to identify a range of useful data sets, and also links to databases, which provide more complex data.  I collated some DATASETS and sources and also printed off my previous post on some #govHack tools.

I was able to help two groups with identifying data and suggesting some ways of working with the data that they had – colourfulpast and ihero.  I had more involvement with the colourfulpast team, because they had worked with cultural data in the past and they included a colleague from the State Library of WA, but it was great to see how both projects evolved over the course of the weekend. I was able to promote both projects via twitter and on relevant facebook groups after the event, so that the target audience could identify and work with the projects and, hopefully, provide feedback and vote!

That said, there are some things that I would do differently next time.  The WA Fisheries Department were there all weekend, with just one dataset – their shark data. Their ability to work with multiple groups and to provide both data and technical expertise meant that three groups elected to work primarily with their data. Had I been more switched on, I could have had a look at the WA Museum and SRO trial discovery layer which Andrew brought to the weekend and identified additional shark data. Similarly, working with Trove to develop some complementary data might also have been useful for them.  The teams are time poor, so helping by providing some easily used and pre-collated data is worth considering. And, I would work to have some specific datasets identified in the portal, which I was really familiar with.

Next year, I hope to return to GovHack with a fully working SROWA catalogue and some datasets derived from the collection. I’ll also have a look at the other data provided by cultural organisations, and work on identifying projects and problems with them.  Having specific datasets and clearly identified projects is of benefit to both the organisations and the hackers.


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Archivist, historian, avid reader

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