I went to a Google Technology User Group meeting on Tuesday night at pariSOMA, and a town hall meeting broke out. To my surprise, there were 3 Mayoral and 4 DA candidates for San Francisco present. While a bit surprised, I quickly found myself riveted by the conversation. Hard not to when the first data points mentioned by the moderator are that San Francisco’s Chief Executive is in charge of 26,000 employees and a $6.8 billion budget!
Specifically, the words of David Chiu rang loudly in my ears. Now I know very little about Mr. Chiu. However, he communicates like someone who has been successful in life and has a plan for the future. He spoke of his experience trying to consolidate San Francisco’s 36 data centers into 2. Legislators largely agreed with the idea, but have failed to act on the consolidation over the last two years. Mr. Chiu then talked about disparate legacy systems creating inefficiencies across city government. That is when he proposed city sponsored hackathons as a way to embrace the talented and entrepreneurial citizens of San Francisco…interesting. He went into more detail by citing the Summer of Smart organization as a starting point and model for what the city itself should sponsor under his guidance.
Seated four candidates to Mr. Chiu’s right was Joanna Rees. I’ve heard Joanna speak previously so I knew that technology and transparency were likely to be a focus. Indeed, she did not disappoint. Joanna spoke highly of the entrepreneurial spirit in the city of San Francisco. She talked about embracing these aspects of our city to make meaningful change to the issues we face. She has a background as a venture capitalist, and understands entrepreneurs. She made a point to agree with David Chiu that hackathons are something the city itself should sponsor to solve efficiency and transparency issues.
The subject of opening government data for citizens for citizen’s use is one that I have heard before. However, the fervor with which David Chiu and Joanna Rees approached the subject renewed hope that hackathons could be an effective venue for civic change in San Francisco. Other cities have thought of this concept as well. Take New York City’s Big Apps 3.0. New York City’s government has organized the way they engage their citizens in a way that San Francisco has not…yet. While we may not be fully organized around the opportunity yet, there is a baseline of information for Engineers to tap into. San Francisco is providing information that people can use through the SFData.org website.
As election day approaches, I’m curious to know what engineers in the city of San Francisco think. We cannot expect our future mayor to have all of the answers.
Would you be interested in solving government inefficiencies through hackathons? If so, what issues would you be passionate about solving?