NYC Digital part of the mayor's office of media and entertainment

Reinvent NYC.Gov, New York City Government's First Hackathon

With nearly 30 million visits each year, NYC.gov, the City’s website, has almost as much traffic as Central Park, serving as a vital hub for information, engagement and constituent services. As the City moves forward with plans to relaunch NYC.gov, NYC Digital reached out to New York City’s design and development community for their input and ideas on the future of NYC.gov.

To spark innovation, NYC Digital organized a community event that would bring together the technologists and government officials: the City’s first-ever hackathon, Reinvent NYC.Gov. A hackathon is a collaborative event in which developers collaboratively join forces to spend a period of hours or days building a new type of technology; in our case, that technology challenge was the user experience of NYC.gov. Hosted on July 30-31, 2011 at General Assembly, a growing technology and entrepreneurship campus in the Flatiron district, over 100 developers, designers, technology partners and city officials participated in the event to collaboratively image and build the future of NYC.gov. The goal: prototypes and mockups of a revamped NYC.gov.

By hosting the hackathon, we sought to:

  • Bridge sectors and connect the government and technology communities around a shared challenge.
  • Encourage collaborative problem-solving and a more open government. We’ve invited developers to share their ideas for improving a major digital “public space.” NYC.gov has almost as many visitors each year as Central Park and should be similarly cared for.
  • Create a mechanism for the public to share feedback and ideas for a website that exists to serve them.
  • Serve as a model for other governments, helping to affect national and international change.
  • Introduce creative and innovative concepts that could help to evolve NYC.gov to be more efficient and effective in serving and empowering New Yorkers.
  • Provide both individuals and teams with face-to-face access to the City’s decision makers.
  • Create a precedent and platform for evolving government through open innovation and participation.
  • Kick off a transparent design process. We want to gather as much input as possible. This is a way to move quickly to achieve our goals.
  • Remove subjectivity from the design process by clearly showing what the public wants and needs.
  • Equip developers with the internal data they need to make user experience decisions, such as analytics, as well as support from our tech partners.

Representatives from our technology partners—Android, Bitly, DonorsChoose.org,  Facebook, Foursquare, Google, Meetup, YouTube, Twitter, and Uber presented their APIs which developers could integrate into their prototypes. Many stayed and made themselves available for “office hours” throughout the weekend,

Representatives from the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, including Girish Chhugani, Andrew Nicklin, and Tin Lau, unveiled New York City’s beta-stage APIs, providing public data to developers.

        

After two long days of hard work, the panel of judges assembled to watch demonstrations from each group. The judges included:


Winning proposals demonstrated elegant, innovative approaches to civic engagement and communication, and consistently featured the five following themes:

User Interface 

      

Noel Hidalgo (Open NY Forum; Civic Commons), David Huerta (Brooklyn Museum), Philip Ashlock (OpenPlans; Civic Commons; Open NY Forum), Lara Torvi (Luminary Labs), Andrea Mignolo (EastMedia & Interaction Design Association), Annie Lee (O, The Oprah Magazine; NYU GCMT), Arnaud Sahuguet (Google.org), Jenny Ye (Google Public Sector), Hilary Worden (Google.org), Sabrina Wang and Fabian Garzon (Zemoga)


Social

    

Alastair Coote, Ashwin Ramesh, Arunram Kalaiselvan (LeadPlace), Cristian Fleming (The Public Society), Marine Boudeau (New York Public Radio), Valentina Camacho (ITP- NYU), Anand Chandrasekaran (LeadPlace), Steve Ramirez (NYCHA) and Mason Du (Benbria)


 Local

 

Raven Keller, Luis Mendoza (Sanborn Media Factory), Lestan D’Souza (Citi), Scott Rogener (Citi), Suresh Annamalai (Citi), Vaidyanath Sethuramen (Citi) and Kapil Arora (Citi)


Innovation

 

Kristy Tillman (IDEO), Colin Raney (IDEO), Burton Rast (IDEO), Jon Wettersten (IDEO), Jacqueline Steck (IDEO), Geoffrey Brown (IDEO), Albert Lee (IDEO) and Michael Yap (IDEO; School of Visual Arts, MFA Interaction Design)


Judges' Pick      

     

Casson Rosenblatt, Matthew Howell and Tom Gibbons

Participants devoted over 2,000 man hours to Reinvent NYC.GOV.  Feedback from participants, partners and City employees on the event was overwhelmingly positive, with many asking about next steps to build on the event’s success and momentum.

A few of the many responses:

  • Great job organizing the hackathon. Let's do a lot more of these!"
  • "I loved that 311 is opening up their data. Push forward with that"
  • Having Rachel, Deputy Mayor Goldsmith, Mayor Bloomberg, etc really made it feel like the City cared about the results and the ideas being kicked around"

And on Twitter:
  • Enjoying some really smart designs at the #ReinventNYCGov hackathon. Inspiring work, can’t wait to see what the judges pick.
  • The creative in me is seriously loving the combination of freedom from standard process + insanely limited time to work. #ReinentNYCGov

In recognition of their achievements, Mayor Bloomberg invited the winners of Reinvent NYC.gov to join him for breakfast at General Assembly to view their prototypes and thank them for their contributions to the City.

As next steps, we are exploring opportunities to:

  • Use the winning designs as reference for NYC.GOV redesign
  • Organize future hackathons on targeted themes such as education, health or 311
  • Finalize and launch NYC OpenData APIs
  • Expand to hackathon series that releases code as Open Source, serving multiple municipalities
  • Participate in external hackathons, providing guidance on how to use city APIs. Already the City has participated in hackathons by Foursquare and HackNY following its own event.

Special thanks to Commissioner Katherine Oliver of the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment (MOME); Commissioner Carole Post of the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DOITT); hosts Matt Brimer and Adrian Ryan of General Assembly; judges Mimi O. Chun of General Assembly, Steven Strauss of New York City Economic Development Corporation, Scott Heiferman of Meetup, Dave Tisch of TechStars, Girish Chhugani (DOITT), Willy Wong of NYC & Company; City technology representatives Andrew Nicklin (DOITT), Tin Lau (DOITT), Chris Long (DOITT), Steve Bezman (DOITT); tech partners Google, Facebook, Bitly, Meetup, DonorsChoose, ExpertLabs, Foursquare and SeeClickFix; and Chris Coffey, Matt Gorton, Julie Wood, Jeanette Moy, Nick Sbordone, Ilyas Frenkel, Brian Levin and Christina Cioffe.