Our Sydney Associate, Ibrahim Elbadawi, reflects on his experiences mentoring GovHack participants in Sydney recently…

I had the opportunity to participate again in GovHack 2017, this time as a coach & volunteer in Parramatta.

The weekend was a great opportunity to have “hacking” conversations with hackers, data mentors and creative people from the private government & private sectors and the wider open data community.

There are key takeaways I’d love to share with you: 3 observations and one being a recommendation:


1. Working with data

In the time spent with team members discussing their ideas and their progress, some expressed their “frustration” about how the datasets they picked for their projects are not “yet ready” or doesn’t fit their exact need; they were expecting to immediately “plug & play” the dataset into their work and start the fun part which might involve training a dataset, creating models or coding an app.

Being no surprise to me given how frequently I’ve heard that comment from enthusiastic developers & thinkers with creative ideas, I found it a good occasion to remind the various team members with a golden rule when working with data: expect to spend up to 80% of your time on “managing” the data before shifting to the fun part.

As in the chart below from a survey by CrowdFlower, this 80% can go into searching and collecting the right dataset(s), cleaning and organising them.

Sharing this note on our Slack channel triggered a very encouraging interaction mainly from data mentors from government agencies who considered this an opportunity to receive feedback on the data they publish – a key benefit of such hackathons.

2. Soft skills shouldn’t be overlooked:

Prior to GovHack weekend, we had a Connection event hosted at Collaboratory which included a 30 min team exercise run by Dex Black who assigned each team with the same mission: to write a limerick! Dex used this fun exercise to explain in action key aspects of teamwork and some of the soft skills that would be valuable during the tense GovHack weekend.

Similarly and during GovHack itself, I run a short session with my friend Rajesh Bhardwaj focused on sharing with the participants some advice and tips on how to create videos for their submissions.

In both occasions, I felt the value of offering the participants such a small dose of coaching on soft skills like communication, team management, time management and the likes.

3. Enabling the future data “hackers”:

You have probably come across tweets about our youngest hackers 🙂

Tweets like this:


And this:

How adorable 🙂

In line with these tweets, one of the teams in Parramatta focused on building a solution to help the school students learn how to use open data.

This was particularly interesting to me because one of my key personal & business passions is preparing the younger generations for the future and helping them acquire theskill they need to lead in the 21st century – the age of the 4th Industrial Revolution.

This motivated my co-creating FlyLab last year in Dubai (won the 3rd place in the international Drones for Good Award) now evolving into YouTube channel and online learning space that aims at enabling the next generation of Makers in the Middle East, and should go live in a few weeks. I continue to peruse this passion here in Australia with more focus on data and digital innovation inspired by the work of my friend and mentorAjit Jaokar among a few others.

4. Recommendation: A digital learning space for data practitioners:

I personally noticed that before this GovHack, the last occasion I visited GovHack.org was during GovHack 2016! This was the case for several participants/volunteers I talked to, and of course, this seasonality goes along with the main purpose of the website.

However, I think there is a real need for a continuous digital learning space for all things “government data”. A digital place that complements the “offline” events & activities and is for government officials, entrepreneurs & business people, thinkers and everyone who is/want to be part of the wider government data community. We can use this space to learn, exchange views and practices, ask questions & get answers etc.

This is where Open Data Institute Australian Network can help – our Ask the ODI Australian Network forum has been already offering such space and it has the potential to grow in both audience and content aspects.

Thanks again for GovHack community for this opportunity and special thanks to Andrew, Lynor & the awesome team in Parramatta!

And to keep the data conversation active, you are all invited to join us in our ODI Connect in Sydney on Aug 17. See you there!

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