Ballarat – where data is gold

Ballarat – where data is gold

The City of Ballarat has been a sponsor of GovHack for six years. Ballarat is a regional Victorian city with a population of about 107,000. The drive time to Melbourne is under two hours and while some people commute, many prefer to work locally and the city certainly encourages this.

Michael Walker

Michael Walker is a UX Designer with the City of Ballarat and we spoke to him about open data, hackathons, local technology industry. 

The city has an academic community in the form of Federation University which has both a large campus and the Ballarat Tech school in the heart of town. Traditional software development is taught along with design thinking, prototyping and problem solving. 

There are local technology jobs and IBM is one of the largest employers in Ballarat. 

Ballarat is a good place for startups because of the low cost of living, availability of co-working spaces and the NBN has been rolled out across the city with a little bit of fibre in the centre. 

Michael works with the council on delivering services via mobile compatible web sites. He was working for IBM but through participation in a GovHack event, became interested in working for the council. 

Ballarat open data

The city has 72 datasets published via data.gov.au and the annual GovHack cycle is a trigger for Council to look for new data to publish. Much of the data is assets including things like lighting, CCTV cameras, bike racks and toilets. Data is available in many open formats. 

Last year there was a “right to the night” event which did a survey of where women felt safe, or unsafe, around Ballarat. An interesting use of data might be to combine information on where women feel unsafe with lighting data. The council is challenging themselves to come up with new ideas for data that might be useful if published. 

A GovHack project goes live

A GovHack project in 2015 called TimeCapsule created a contemporary historical record with contributions from citizens. After the hackathon, the council worked with the developer and turned it into the “HUL” (Historic Urban Landscape) website where users upload images, documents, or other content from a location in Ballarat at a particular point in time. 

HULBallarat captures how the city is changing over time. 

While other GovHack projects may not have been turned directly into government projects, they have triggered internal efforts including analysis of the parking in the city. 

The role of hackathons

Michael feels that hackathons are good value for money even if they don’t lead on to concrete projects. The key is that the government department publishing data is fully involved in not just publishing data but also putting out challenges that are really in spaces that need solutions and ideas.

The best outcomes have been associated with the internal involvement of subject matter experts, technology specialists, and buy in from external partners. The “right to the night” project also involved Victoria Police, for example. 

GovHack in Ballarat

Publishing open data

The way the council publishes data is changing over time. Previously a data analyst would identify a fantastic data set as part of their work, and publish it. More recently there has been a change in the way the council approaches services in that consuming data is a key part of measuring success and then thinking about what personally identifiable information must be stripped out so that the data can be published on data.gov.au.

If you are a council interested in publishing data, Michael suggests starting small. Assets are a good way to get the ball rolling, it gives the community something useful to look at and it’s low cost to generate and publish. The key is to get started as on the horizon is huge amounts of data that will be created as the internet of things takes off. 

Ballarat – the future is smart

The city is looking at what a smart city looks like. The roll-out of sensors which will be “baked in” to infrastructure. Examples include rubbish bin sensors that report back when the bin needs emptying, parking sensors reporting vacancies, water levels and flooding. 

Sensors can communicate over a wireless technology called LoRaWAN (Long Range Wide Area Network) and there is a LoRa gateway installed at the top of the Ballarat town hall and another in the hackerspace. There are community groups also putting up gateways to make it possible for IOT (Internet of things) to connect through them. 

IOT won’t be just a few devices but a network across the city and the managing and publishing of that huge increase in the amount of data is a fascinating challenge.

Article by Peter Marks for GovHack.

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