The City By The Sea is welcoming problem solving proposals from Silicon Beach.
Santa Monica has opened applications for the 2017 Hack The Beach contest designed to leverage the skills of the local tech community to improve local quality of life.
The contest is in its second year and officials said this year’s event is focused on a set of challenges related to the city’s budget priorities. Anyone with a hardware of software solution is invited to participate provided their entry incorporates technology in some way, address one of the six goals and meets the judging criteria for viability, value and growth.
“Hack the Beach is about harnessing the talent of innovators in our backyard to create solutions that offer a better customer service experience for residents,” said Mayor Ted Winterer. “While doing this, participants get to work directly with the City to shape a product with real world application. In our second year, we hope to continue to strengthen the bonds between local government and the tech community to bring value to citizens and anyone doing business with the City.”
This year, there are six possible design challenges.
Building Community — How might we use technology to encourage residents connect with each other in a very real, genuine, neighbor-to-neighbor way?
A Responsive Government — What are ways to cultivate a trustworthy and participatory local government through equitable, transparent, and effective processes?
Health — How might we use technology to make it easier to empower residents to access these public resources to take charge of improving their health?
Place and Planet — How might we use technology to make it easier to get around town in an environmentally-friendly way?
Learning — How might we use technology to champion lifelong education achievements and opportunities for continuous personal growth?
Economic Opportunity — How might we use technology to support community needs through a stable, vibrant and diverse local economy?
The application process is available online (www.hackthebeach.com) and applications will be taken through September 4. Once the deadline closes the judging process will select up to 10 finalists. Those applicants will receive additional mentoring and feedback to refine their ideas before the final judging in December.
Behrang Abadi, Senior Information Technology Manager with the City of Santa Monica, said the contest isn’t a one-off event or a side project, but rather a significant effort to bring new ideas into government. He said large tech firms have the staff and resources to work with a city but many startups don’t know how to get their ideas heard.
“What were really trying to do is engage the private sector to create meaningful solutions to things that are of importance to the city,” he said.
Abadi said Hack the Beach is designed to bring the City’s needs to creative thinkers in environments that are familiar to the companies and using language that is easy to understand instead of assuming solutions will walk in the door of City Hall.
“We really want to co-create solutions,” said Abadi. “We don’t want to pretend the City has all of the answers or all of the resources to solve the issues of the community.”
Abadi said the outreach helps spark thinking from companies that might not otherwise realize they could work with government.
“We’re bringing city hall to our tech industry, you don’t have to understand how city hall works, you don’t even have to know where it is or what the hours are,” he said.
Catherine Geanuracos’ company, CityGrows, won the inaugural contest last year and her technology is actually being used to run the 2017 contest. Her company provides digital templates that allow government agencies to automate and streamline routine processes.
She said participation has benefits for the companies and the city.
While Geanuracos had some understanding of civic work prior to entering Hack the Beach, she said the specialized mentoring is invaluable to companies that want to do businesses with governments.
“It’s hard as a startup trying to work with government. It’s hard to find a champion inside a system like that,” she said. “We were connected with people who are really primed for experimentation.”
The contest also opened a window to the culture of government.
“I had some government experience but getting inside knowledge of the technological and political challenges was incredibly helpful,” she said. “We learned about how much isn’t just how much better your technology is, that’s just one piece of supporting change management inside government.”
She said Santa Monica is a city that is particularly welcoming to experimental ideas and she said city staff are interested in making their jobs more efficient.
“What we found was there are a ton of people inside the city who were really motivated to improve things for constituents,” she said. “We know they wanted better services but to also improve the quality of life inside the city.”
For more information on the 2017 contest, visit www.hackthebeach.com.