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Virginia Hosts Hackathon Using State Data

Mallory Noe-Payne

Hackathon is a bit of a buzzword these days. It’s an event where software developers come together and are given a short period of time to collaborate on new projects. Think lots of computers, lots of creativity, and lots of energy drinks.

You might associate a hackathon with universities or tech companies, but probably not state government. Virginia, though, is looking to change that. 

Virginia kicked off a two-day hackathon Thursday morning, handing developers mounds of state data on job postings with the directive to create something useful for Virginia’s unemployed.

Called the Governor's Workforce Innovation Dathathon, it's part of a collective push to use data and technology to help address economic issues.

"Innovators don’t have access to that kind of information to really develop useful apps and everything, at this point," says Anthony Fung, Virginia’s Deputy Secretary of Technology.  "So in government we say 'Hey we are conveners and we have some of this data, we want to put it out there to show how through these innovators we can really create those useful apps and visualizations'.” 

Almost half of the participants though aren't private 'innovators', they're state employees. That’s something Waldo Jaquith, an expert in open data, says is unique and important about this event.

“What’s being done here that’s really different is they’re being forced to use only their data that is public as open data," Jaquith says. "It’s the equivalent of putting government employees in wheelchairs and making them navigate public buildings, and they’ll understand how really inaccessible they are.”

For Jaquith that means the best thing to come from the hackathon won’t necessarily be a new website or phone app, but a greater understanding of the importance of open data.

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