The problems plaguing the municipal court system in St. Louis County have been in the spotlight a lot lately. This weekend, coders will come together at GlobalHack V to see if they can develop some tech solutions.
It’s a shift for GlobalHack, which has focused on corporate problem-solving since it launched two years ago. Executive director Matt Menietti said the non-profit’s goal is to improve the city’s tech community, but they wanted to see if they could do more.
"Can we do that in a way that benefits St. Louis more so than just bringing people together to write code?" Menietti asked. "Can we actually solve some problems that are going to make the city better and potentially the world?"
The incentive for developers to give up their weekend includes $60,000 in prize money. It’s also an opportunity to get to know new programming languages, meet coders who are further along in their careers, and even find a new job. Menietti said tech recruiters are increasingly using hack-a-thons to find good candidates.
"It’s sort of an interview on steroids," he said. "You get to see these people work on a team in a limited amount of time delivering a solution to a real world problem, and they have to show up on Sunday with a finished product."
Working with stakeholders
GlobalHack is partnering with the Civic Tech and Data Collaborative, which includes St. Louis County, Rise Community Development, and OpenDataSTL. The effort includes getting input from municipal court judges and clerks to identify what problem coders will be asked to solve over three days.
"We’re trying very hard not to solve the first problem we come across," explained Eleanor Tutt, a data management coordinator at Rise and a volunteer with OpenDataSTL. "We’re trying to keep in the problem identification phase as long as possible, so that we end up doing something really useful."
Tutt said judges, clerks and community members will be among those who decide what the winning solutions are and how they get implemented. Once the hack-a-thon is done, she said the Civic Tech and Data Collaborative will continue to work with the winning prototypes.
"Our goal is to have handful of solid prototypes and kind of keep kicking the tires, as well as continue to build them out with volunteers from OpenDataSTL and other groups," she said.
That will include testing the solutions and making sure the community is happy with the results before putting them in place.
The future of GlobalHack
Former Missouri secretary of state Robin Carnahan joined GlobalHack’s advisory board this year when the non-profit decided to plan a civic hack-a-thon. She said GlobalHack can play an important role in bridging technology with civic organizations and government.
"We can’t stay in these 19th and 20th century models of service delivery when it comes to government services when the rest of the things in our life have moved onto the 21st century," Carnahan said.
Menietti said the non-profit is looking to do more civic hack-a-thons and much bigger events. GlobalHack is planning to scale up next year and offer $1 million in prize money.
"We’re looking at ways to truly put a spotlight in St. Louis and make this more a national event instead of a regional event," he said.
The goal is to attract 2,000 to 3,000 developers rather than the 150 to 300 participants that GlobalHack’s events now draw.
Menietti said as soon as GlobalHack V is over, they’ll get started on fundraising.
Follow Maria on Twitter: @radioaltman