It's a familiar trend when it comes to hackathons - to startup-centric software development in general, maybe - that the app comes first, and the reason comes second. You build something, and then you find a way to market and sell it until the money starts showing up - all $344 of it.
Hackstock for #LocalGov (which comes from ICMA, partnered with Esri and Mindmixer), on the other hand, is an interesting twist on this tradition. Instead of just building whatever and seeing what happens, Hackstock aims to connect developers with local government in order to facilitate communication and understanding of what needs are already present. In other words, it's a hackathon where you know that what you're building is something people want, you know exactly who wants it, and you know why they want it.
These ideas come from a "White Board Exercise" - basically a brainstorming session with city managers and so on from various jurisdictions all over the country - which produces hundreds of ideas for apps from the perspective of an end-user: they explain their problems, and what they'd like to have to fix them. It then gets pruned down into a more manageable selection - check it out and see what kinds of things local governments would like to have.
Or, if you don't feel like reading what I have to say, you can watch this video:
I had a chance to speak with Christopher Thomas, Government Industry Manager at Esri, about the hackathon. He pointed to a number of interesting ideas that local government had been asking for: citizen budgeting tools, for example - helping people understand where their money goes and why they're spending it the way they do - or a tool to help connect employees with employers on a local level. Another recurring topic, according to Thomas, is walkability. How can you build a more walkable community if you don't know where people are walking?
The key idea for Thomas, though, is communication - creating a dialogue between groups of people where one might rarely happen organically.
The hackathon takes place Saturday, September 14th and Sunday, September 15th in Charlotte, NC - you can register here if you're interested - but even if you're nowhere nearby, it's a great idea: building with the end-user not just in mind, but providing feedback from the first step.
Get yourself hackathon-ready, then check out all the details: