I Have a Confession
I’ll admit it. I am not involved in politics nor do I know who my state and local legislators are. I know who our President is, and a few random senators, but that’s really the extent of my knowledge. If you were to ask me if I know what bills are currently being voted on, I would chuckle and look at you with a blank stare. It’s not that I don’t care about these things. It’s just that this information isn’t readily accessible to me nor is it present in any of my social circles. Let’s face it, in today’s society, information needs to be readily accessible and bite size for people to pay attention. I don’t want to have to go searching for this information, but I will pay attention if it is presented to me properly.
I was recently invited to be a judge at an event called the Tabs on Tallahassee Hackathon hosted by Code for Orlando and the Orlando Sentinel. If you don’t know, a hackathon is an event that where developers, designers, and anyone else that is interested in software development come to collaborate on themed projects. The main goals of a hackathon is to further innovation, encourage collaboration, and spread awareness in the local community.
What is Tabs on Tallahassee?
The Tabs on Tallahassee Hackathon was organized as an effort to make Florida Legislature more transparent. How you ask? Through an open-source API (Application Program Interface) called Tabs on Tallahassee that was developed through the Orlando Sentinel thanks to a grant from the Knight Foundation. This API was built to aggregate an array of different information regarding the Florida House and Senate such as legislator voting history and current bills, and display it in a way that makes it easily accessible and digestible. The best part about the API is that it is open-source meaning that anyone can download the files and use it to further the product with their own ideas.
I remember thinking that this concept has a lot of potential in terms of civic impact, but after spending the day interacting with folks at the hackathon, I can honestly say that I was blown away. The amount of creativity that went into the projects that were presented at the end of the event was nothing short of impressive especially considering the teams only had 8 hours to execute on their ideas. My favorite take-away from the event was hearing that most of the groups learned about legislature by simply interacting with the API and thinking of ways to creatively use it in their own projects. That fact alone shows how much potential the Tabs on Tally initiative can have in terms of civic impact. A tool like this in the hands of creative people has endless possibilities and can impact the way we live our lives for the better.
And the Winner is…..
In the end, I along with the other judges, had a tough time selecting the winning team, but we eventually landed on a winner. A team created a pro took the API and integrated the power of Twitter to put that bill in the spotlight and drive support for it by tweeting either #yes or #no. They were awarded $1000 in prize money thanks to the Orlando Sentinel, and even got to pose in front of a really large check! I hope all of the teams continue building on their ideas and turn their projects into polished products to be unleashed into society. It was truly an honor to be a part of this hackathon, and I want to congratulate and thank everyone that was involved.