Alex gets a GovHack gong

Stephen Cannings | 20 Sep 2018

From GovHack’s humble beginnings to a nation-wide annual event, few have been as closely connected as the DTA’s Alex Sadleir.  

This year, Alex received a Sydney ‘Spirit of GovHack’ award for team mentoring so we made him answer a few questions about what he does, and why.  

If you didn't know, GovHack is an open data hackathon held across a weekend where thousands of competitors work in teams to solve real-world problems using government public data. The event is volunteer run, from state organisers through to the mentors.

Alex, what does a GovHack mentor actually do?

A mentor sits with each team and looks over their idea. I suggest how they could get that done, or if there's a better way to do it. We help them understand the tools and the data that's available to them.

How did mentoring start in GovHack?

Mentoring has always been a part of the GovHack experience. Originally, it happened organically. Government sponsors were coming along to present their dataset. They had the expertise with that dataset, and about working with data. People were tapping them on the shoulder, and over time it became a more formal thing to provide mentors at every location.

I heard you won a prize at the first ever GovHack? 

In 2009 it was kind of a pilot event at my university in Canberra (Australian National University). The competition was associated with Mash Up Australia, and GovHack was set up to help people prepare for that bigger competition.

My team’s project ‘Lobby Lens’ was one of the award winners.

The prize at the time was a Meccano robot. Since then the prizes have become more, well … stylish.

What was Lobby Lens about?

It was about visualising the connections between political lobbyists, government contracts and government political donors.

How were you involved in GovHack after that?

GovHack started as a one-off, but they created this amazing brand with the GovHack logo created by the Twitter ‘fail whale’ designer, Yiying Lu. A couple of years later GovHack was rebooted by volunteers. This gave me the opportunity from the start to shape the event and be on its national committee. For a few years, I was also the technical director for the competition.

Over time you must have seen a change in the kind of projects people were making?

I think one of the things we tried to do is open it up. Because initially it was very heavily focused on app developers. 

There's a wide range of ways to use government data like data journalism and creating art from government data. We've tried to encourage different uses over the years.

For example, this year I was helping out a team that made a 3D printed model of some data.

That's a bit different from the traditional, hackathon app-making.

Alex Sadleir is a senior developer at the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA). The DTA is the lead agency sponsor for GovHack 2018.

Currently, the judges are reviewing 243 projects. This year’s winners of GovHack prizes will be announced at state and territory awards ceremonies in October, with a national Red Carpet Awards in November.