GovHack 2020: Finding solutions to bushfires and plastic waste

By Georgia Kelleher

30 October 2020

4 minute read

GovHack 2020 with hackers working around computers

GovHack 2020 put data in the hands of Australia’s best hackers.

Hackers from Australia and New Zealand have virtually flocked to unravel data from Australia’s biggest government agencies – ours included.

But don’t worry, we asked them to! We willingly offered up our data to participants in this year’s GovHack competition. All in return for an innovative perspective on some interesting challenges.

Breaking ground at GovHack 2020

Formed to raise the profile of open government data, GovHack plays an important role in the tech world. It provides an opportunity to collaborate, gain knowledge and develop new skills. Also, it helps us identify and solve deep-rooted social, economic and environmental challenges.

This year, more than 1000 people attended a digital version of GovHack, with 691 keen hackers in their midst.

After the opening ceremony and announcement of challenges, teams formed and it was time to get hacking. They bunkered down for concept development and prototyping (in between fun activities to keep the creative juices flowing). At the end of the weekend, teams submitted a video outlining their project. Talk about hacking to a deadline!

As a national sponsor of GovHack this year, we didn’t just provide the data – we also set two of the challenges. And here’s how they went.

Challenge one: data-driven decisions for improved disaster planning, management or recovery

Australia is exposed to natural disasters on a regular basis and the associated costs are substantial. It’s been recognised that Australia needs systemic change in the way it deals with natural disasters. This was seen first-hand during the recent Black Summer bushfires, with a study estimating over 3.5 billion animals may have been impacted.

We need strategies to resist, absorb, accommodate, recover and transform in the face of natural disasters and climate change. This includes the effects of longer, drier summers, coupled with changes to the frequency and severity of cyclones, droughts and floods.

In this challenge, we asked our hackers to help communities contribute to information flows on natural disasters. Also, to provide decision-makers with tools to help make more informed decisions on natural disaster planning, management and response strategies.

The winner of challenge one was Fires – a new way. This app aims to provide communities with the ability to label high-value community assets on a real-time map. The app makes this information available to emergency response teams during a fire.

Challenge two: track and trace – help end plastic waste

Plastics are everywhere in our lives due to their cheap manufacture, light weight, and effectiveness as packaging solutions. However, as their use increases, plastic waste is becoming a huge threat to our environment and health. In particular, marine debris is a global environmental issue of increasing concern. In fact, our research has found that in Australia, three-quarters of coastline rubbish found is plastic and from Australian sources.

But plastic getting into the environment is often hard to track and understand. To look for patterns, scientists need relevant environmental data from communities to help improve our understanding of the types, amounts and sources of plastic that are polluting Australia.

In response to this challenge, we asked hackers to empower members of the community to report, measure and identify plastic waste in their environment. This will inform decision-makers and underpin policy and strategy to benefit all Australians.

The winners of this challenge were Project Clearwater. Their project explored an innovative way of using Internet of Things (IoT) devices to track plastic waste.

*Hacker voice* I’m in

These are just two of the incredible challenges our coding contingent tackled over the weekend. Why not explore the rest of the winning solutions.

Feeling inspired by GovHack 2020? Interested in taking part in a future GovHack event? Then keep an eye on their website for more information on upcoming events and competitions.