Hackathon Extravaganza at MadLab

Manchester Council has teamed up with FutureEverything and OpenDataManchester to give birth to the Manchester Hackathon, hosted at MadLab on the 17th November. Local programmers and software developers worked on new ways to interpret and visualise data provided by the Manchester Council which ranged from data on taxi rank locations to Council tax bands. A wide range of local authorities including NHS Manchester and Greater Manchester Fire & Rescue Service donated their data to be used by the participants, all of which is available online here. This is great as by encouraging councils to share their data, they spend less on analysing the data themselves, whilst also engaging members of the public to directly benefit their local communities.

Picture by Tom Higham

By the end of the event, the Crossfeeder project had emerged as the winners of the Grand Prize, with the accompanying £4600 prize money. The software plots localised data over a 2-D map, enabling users to see how statistics in their area varies to those of others, whilst providing a means to investigate correlations between different data sets. For more information, check out this blog post.

They weren’t the only ones to impress the judges who included Dave Carter (MDDA), Lou Cordwell (magneticNorth) and Andrew MacKenzie (Open Mercia). 19 year old Bilawaal Hameed won the Best Under-21s category with his bus app that means you can find your nearest bus stop and can find out when the next bus will come along.

The other winners were for the Best Visualisation and Developers Prize, Best Locative Application and Best Solution for an Identified Problem which went to (respectively): John Rees for his app Sat Lav, which points you to the nearest public toilet including those in shops and bars which allow the public to use; Matt Schofield for his Taxi Rank Finder app that finds the nearest taxi rank and shows you how to get there as well as other useful information like closing times; Slawomir Wdowka and Imran Younis for their Manchester Voice, an app that allows the public to submit ideas to the local council, then checks records to see if other people have made the same suggestion so when the proposal has been more fully developed, the public will be able to vote on it.

From left, Imran Younis with Slawomir Wdowka. Picture by Michael Duffield

MadLab has been a key space in facilitating events such as the Manchester Hackathon to happen, especially following the success of being the Manchester Young Rewired State centre (which has given rise to the U18 group who will be having their first CoderDojo very soon) and it was great to be a part of something that will hopefully be the first of many such events.

In the words of lead councillor for IT on the council, Nigel Murphy when asked to speak about the importance of events like the Hackathon:

By making data formats available there’s going to be a cost to get that there but if someone asks for that information under freedom of information, there’s going to be a cost for that there anyway so maybe by spending 10 or 15 percent to make sure it’s a set format and we publish what that format is, it could save more requests in the future.

The important thing is making sure that information is there for the public, it’s their data at the end of the day so we need to make sure its available for people to use to make the apps or computer programmes for the future so that we can make it better for the citizens of Manchester.

For the full interview and more pictures, you can go to Sarah Hartley’s article at the Guardian Northerner blog here.

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