IE 11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Maryland's Statewide Hackathon Reclaims the Bay

The state fed the participants environmental data, and then watched smart and creative people "do their thing."

Spurring innovation in state government can be as easy as rolling chicken poop down a hill. That’s what prompted the state of Maryland to run its first civic hackathon, called DataBay Reclaim the Bay Innovation Challenge, on Aug. 1 through Aug. 3. With four finalists now selected, the state is looking forward to see how a community of entrepreneurs and startups can improve the environment with technology before the final application judging on Aug. 27.

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley gathered his people in July to discuss the problem of chicken litter creating environmental problems in Chesapeake Bay, CIO Mike Powell told Government Technology. The hackathon wasn’t specifically launched to solve that one problem, but it was the starting point of the state’s environmentally-minded hackathon, Powell said.

About 80 local entrepreneurs, students and technology leaders gathered and scarcely slept at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater to participate in the state’s first hackathon. Since the state had never led a hackathon before, the state’s partners, which include the University of Maryland's Future of Information Alliance and Hack Baltimore, were integral to making the event a success -- and it was a success, Powell said.

“Without Hack Baltimore’s experience with hackathons, without the Future of Information Alliance’s experience with significant events, I would have personally been in a lot of trouble and it would have never been as good as it ended up being,” he said, adding that feedback from the event’s participants was positive. “I was really pleased with the products they came up with, but also [with] building a little bit of community around civic engagement and environmental issues in a new way.”

Four teams of finalists were selected at the end of the weekend-long event. Each team received $1,000 and an opportunity to continue developing their projects until the final judging on Aug. 27 at the State House in Annapolis.

The qualifying projects include:

  • EcoSleuth, a crowd-sourcing app for tracking algae blooms;
  • ChesaPeaks, a website that facilitates water-quality monitoring;
  • BayBucks, an app that rewards environmentally-friendly acts with coupons to local businesses; and
  • MyBay, a program that surveys user behavior and suggests ways of being more environmentally-friendly.
The state didn’t want to provide too much guidance, Powell said – the idea was to let smart and creative people do their thing, and the state would do their job, which was to feed the participants environmental data and watch what happened. When the state’s five appointed judges, taken from the local environmental and entrepreneurial community, make their decision later this month, the state will evaluate how the event fits into state government going forward, Powell said.

“One of the goals was if it was successful, we’d think about how to make this scalable and sustainable, and I think the feedback we got was really, really good," he said. "There’s certainly interest in doing something like this again, whether it’s around the environment or whether it’s around something else."

And the projects that came out of the event, Powell added, were just the kind of thing they were looking for. “Most of them are more consumer applications,” he said. “It’s not something that solved a problem that we in state government had. It was something that peoples’ creativity led them to develop -- something that my mom might want to use to be more environmentally responsible or help the earth.”

Colin wrote for Government Technology and Emergency Management from 2010 through most of 2016.
Special Projects
Sponsored Articles
  • How the State of Washington teamed with Deloitte to move to a Red Hat footprint within 100 days.
  • The State of Michigan’s Department of Technology, Management, and Budget (DTMB) reduced its application delivery times to get digital services to citizens faster.

  • Sponsored
    Like many governments worldwide, the City and County of Denver, Colorado, had to act quickly to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. To support more than 15,000 employees working from home, the government sought to adapt its new collaboration tool, Microsoft Teams. By automating provisioning and scaling tasks with Red Hat Ansible Automation Platform, an agentless, human-readable automation tool, Denver supported 514% growth in Teams use and quickly launched a virtual emergency operations center (EOC) for government leaders to respond to the pandemic.
  • Sponsored
    Microsoft Teams quickly became the business application of choice as state and local governments raced to equip remote teams and maintain business continuity during the COVID-19 lockdown. But in the rush to deploy Teams, many organizations overlook, ignore or fail to anticipate some of the administrative hurdles to successful adoption. As more organizations have matured their use of Teams, a set of lessons learned has emerged to help agencies ensure a successful Teams rollout – or correct course on existing implementations.