Saturday, June 3, 2023

Hackerthons for Training New Federal Government Consultants?

GovHack AGM Online
Could GovHack style hackerthons be used to quickly get the new federal government internal consultants up to speed?

Greetings from the office of AWS Australia in Canberra, where I am attending the GovHack Annual General Meeting. GovHack is a non-profit organization which organizes an annual hackerthon using government data sources. This happens at sites around Australia (and last year NZ as well). Teams build applications using the data, and the best win prizes.

The meeting is around an impressive boardroom style table, with a large wall-screen showing Zoom participants. A slightly quirk touch is that the room's impressive video conferecne system is not being used. Instead a smartphone is propped up in a takeout coffee cardboard tray. This is in the makedo-do spirit of Govhack. 

Many school, and university students take part, as do new staff at government agencies and corporations. In the past I have helped with university and defence department hackerthons. These are useful for people to learn to work rapidly on a project, and to work with people with diverse skills. 

I was asked about participation by the Australian Computer Society (ACS). I suggested GovHack would appeal to the smaller chapters and branches, for participation in grass roots activites (I am a member of the ACS Professional Standards Board).

The hackerthon format I believe has considerable potential as part of formal assessed school and university courses, as well as professional development, and workplace learning. The hackerthon is similar to the group projects which students in some disciplines, such as computing, undertake over six months to a year, but compressed to three days. This may be of use for training the new federal government internal consultants. 

Event canvas from NWIW 2020
by Paul Telling

The Australian Government has decided to reduce reliance on external consultants, and make more use of public servants, including an internal consulting team. This will require new skills, both for those transitioning from the private sector, and those used to working in one agency. The hackerthon provides a way to learn to work in a diverse team rapidly. Normally hackerthons are though of as open events. However, it is possible to run an internal event with cleared staff, working on sensitive matters. Over the last few years I have assisted with three defence related hackerthons (Navy Warfare Innovation Workshop 2020Secure Supply Chains ADF/NZDF 2020). 

ps: You will notice that I appear on the Zoom twice: once in the room in Canberra, and secondly as an individual Zoom participant. Someone around the table asked about this, getting confused seeing two of me. In the past I found it much easier to treat a hybrid meeting as online, plus a room, than the other way around. This works fine provided I don;t have audio on (which causes feedback problems). One advnatge is to be able to post into, and easily read, the chat. 

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