'Festival of Ideas' finds a welcome home at Torrens University

GovHack student group at Wakefield Campus in Adelaide

Torrens University hosted the Southern Hemisphere’s largest ‘open data hackathon’ - GovHack - where over 500 teams from Australia and New Zealand collaborated to produce solutions to environmental, social, development issues, as well as responses to natural disasters and community problems. 

The main hackathon took place over 3 days, (20 -22 August), as a hybrid digital and physical event. The Opening Ceremony kicked off the competition at our Wakefield Campus, in Adelaide, and featured an address by South Australian Minister for Innovation & Skills, the Honourable David Pisoni.  

"GovHack promotes the economic, social, and environmental value of open data to develop and address public policy and service delivery challenges, while also upskilling participants of our expanding digital economy as they move into the new jobs of today and tomorrow,” said Minister Pisoni. 

The competition had four themes: Energy and Infrastructure, Our Digital Future, Agriculture and the Environment, and Health & Wellbeing, which reflected key areas of strategic importance pertinent to our governments, our citizens, and our communities. Impressively, they were developed in conjunction with the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. 

Tackling the tough challenges

Using government data, the teams were given only 46 hours to develop innovative ideas addressing the key challenges. According to participants, it was a breeding ground for connection, and a platform to display superior data analysis skills.

Fascinating and challenging questions were posed, for example;

  • How can open data help us better connect Australians, build resilience, and unlock opportunities in our regions?
  • Everything from business operations to consumer choices to employment opportunities have changed in light of the COVID-19 pandemic - how can we understand what our recovery will look like?
  • How can we better predict when and where emergencies might occur, and get resources there in time?
  • How can digital supply chains and data help us better understand the supply and demand of critical goods, such as vaccines?

Community event sparks a whirlwind of critical thinking

The respected event is an incubator of ideas, where critical data is an enabler to foster change-making in action. Seeds are planted, innovative ideas born, and quirky concepts cultivated.

Professor Eddie Blass, Pro Vice-Chancellor Academic, said the event brought together brilliant, innovative minds to come up with solutions for some “big, wicked problems” in society. 

“It makes sense for this event to be held at Torrens University – because we are all about adding value in a way that is also doing good for society,” she said. 

“It also shows how we're working with the local industry and different levels of government to address some of the bigger problems that need to be solved, where we don't necessarily already have the answers.” 

Instant value for our students

GovHack simultaneously gathers viable ideas while providing an immersive experience that benefits our students.

“I especially came to participate here. I need these kinds of experiences. It’s going to help me in my career,” said Abhiyan Phunyal – Master of Business Information Systems student at Torrens University.

Torrens University is proud to partner with GovHack to provide the venue because it provides valuable networking opportunities for our students, not to mention mirroring real-world scenarios and environments they will have to deal with once they graduate.

“We firmly believe that all of our students are not just studying with us for a qualification. It’s to get them job ready,” said Mark Falvo, Senior Vice President International at Torrens University Australia. “It’s to get them the employability skills to carry them through into their future.”

Over the weekend, each team created insightful videos  to illustrate their findings which could help solve their chosen societal problem.

Big industry players equal unique opportunities for our students’ career pathway

Michelle Howie, Telstra Developer Advocate and a GovHack veteran involved for her third year, says this competition provided her with valuable connections and experiences. Over the years, Michelle has mentored, judged, and participated, and she said that the event has made her the changemaker she is today.

“There are three types of people you can have at a hackathon. There are hackers – engineers and techies like me; there’re hustlers who are looking at the business problem solving side; and hipsters who are looking at the design and the way things really look and feel,” Michelle Howie explained that there is space for anyone to flex their muscle.

Technical, analytical, and entrepreneurial skills are on show, and ripe for the picking with potential recruiters keeping a close eye on proceedings. The event has established strong ties to Australian and New Zealand developer and creative communities and places the hackers in demand as their skills are suitably tested and visible to impressive sponsors, including Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australian Tax Office, Telstra, and Melbourne Water.

“We have seen, a lot of times, people have come in and presented some great ideas, some of the government departments have offered them internships, some of them have actually gone ahead to work with some of the sponsors or sponsoring agencies,” said Harshal Dave, GovHack State Director.

GovHack climaxed with team presentations to close the “festival of ideas”. Finalists are soon to be determined, with awards set to be announced at the GovHack State Awards in September, and the Aotearoa New Zealand Awards in October.

The pinnacle event – GovHack International Red-Carpet Awards – will highlight and celebrate this year’s creativity and ingenuity on both sides of the Tasman late this year.

Catch great minds in action at the event here.

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