GovHack as a 70:20:10 learning experience

cover drains dragons

Some Sprouts and Brian Jones, Web Services Development Officer at Hobart City Council, just took part in GovHack 2015, where we built a mobile augmented reality game using local government datasets. The game is a simple 'Dungeons and Dragons' hack-and-slash-fest designed to raise awareness of council public assets. You play by accessing the site on your mobile device. As you walk around your area you notice 'points of interest' appearing on the map. Clicking on one of these reveals the monster lurking at that point. What you do then is up to you (Fight, Flee or Find out more).

The project won the Best use of Hobart City data and the Best use of Glenorchy City data prizes

During the event we blogged a bit about the process: Drains and dragons 


 drains dragons screens

How does a GovHack work?

The basic outline of the event is:

  1. Prizes to be won are announced at 6pm on Friday night

  2. Teams are formed and ideas explored

  3. The teams start buildin

  4. By 5pm Sunday a video showcasing the project needs to be uploaded

  5. Judging happens after the event

Most of the possible data sets are known before the event.  

GovHack as a learning experience

For me, GovHack was a bit of a chance to play with some different technologies that we don’t use day to day. It might have been easier to work with the same tech but then it would have felt a bit more like work. The technology was the use of node.js, which uses the same scripting language on the server and client, and mongodb, a NoSQL document database.

This gave me a few ideas about things we could improve in Sprout Labs’ current workflows. It was also a great chance to explore gamification in a new way. This is what seemed to attract the attention of the other participants.  

The event raised participants’ understanding of what open data is and how it can be used. For the government agencies involved I imagine all the participants now have a deeper understanding of what those agencies do; in some cases the hackers tidied up and improved the original data sets.   

Mobile seems boring

Maybe it’s just me, but developing a mobile application doesn’t feel innovative. What felt innovative was the physical project undertaken by Hobart Hackerspace, who were working with 3D printers to visualise data from the Land Information System Tasmania. Their page and video is at Building Chocks Tasmania

The 70:20:10 framework and GovHack

In many ways GovHack is a great example of a 70:20:10 learning experience. It’s a team-based project. It embeds doing and experiencing, and the team nature of the event provides a natural peer learning experience.



It occurred to me that there are a few reasons why it is successful as a learning experience.

  • It’s focused on innovation and play. For the participants it’s different to the work they do day to day. It’s a chance to take some risks with different ideas and technologies.

  • Because of the time constraints everyone is focused. The hacks are limited to government data sets, which triggers different types of creative thinking. It also means that the participants are looking at data and exploring ideas that they might not normally be interested in.

  • The prizes encourage even more creativity and focus!

Constraining the time and datasets and offering prizes can also be thought of as game mechanics.    

There are perhaps two ways that a hack might be used by an organisation.

  1. As a learning event
    The idea that a hack could be used inside of an organisations to trigger innovation and learning. Events could focus on non-developer teams designing new products or services. For it work as a 70:20:10 learning experience it does need to go beyond just the generation of an idea – something needs to be built. The teams could comprise random selections of people from across the organisation, which would trigger new connection and new types of sharing. Instead of focusing on what the organisation does the hack could focus on a fictional organisation, which might help to trigger the ‘play’ aspect we valued so much. Hack events could also be done with clients and partners. Organising a hack event is a great example of how a learning and development team can help to support and enable on-the-job learning without the need for a traditional learning event.

  2. As marketing
    Hacks are now often being used as a form of marketing where a prize is offered to develop a hack around a product or service. These are often not actual events, they are really just prizes for working with certain technologies on certain problems.

If we have time we will be back next year, and hopefully we’ll get our video completed earlier than 4:58pm!        

Play the game at - Drains and dragons