The pleasing difficulty of judging a hack day

Bath:Hacked is asking the brightest and most creative people in our city to spend two days thinking, playing and hacking an untapped seam of BANES data.

It was with huge excitement that I headed along to Coworking Bath on Sunday morning for the judging of the first Bath Hacked event.

I arrived around 11AM, by which time the teams had been working for over 24 hours on their hacks. I spent 5 minutes or so with each of the teams in turn, looking at where they’d got to and getting a feel for where they were heading in the rest of the time they had.

There were no set judging criteria as such but I constructed a set of questions that I asked of each team I met to get a feel for:

  • The clarity of user need(s) being addressed
  • The importance being placed on the quality of user experience created
  • The application of locally-sourced data, especially that recently released by B&NES for the event
  • Tactics employed to clean, munge and splice data to make the data meaningful.

Around 3PM, the teams gathered together and presented to one another, the judges and a big group of curious onlookers for 4 minutes. Then it was over to me, Doug Laughlen and Valerie West to try to decide which team should win in each of 4 categories:

  • Grand Prize (£1k) – awarded to the best overall project, judged most imaginative, well conceived and likely to benefit the community, local business and/or the environment
  • Community Impact (£250) – awarded to the project most likely to resonate with the wider community
  • Best use of data (£250) – we’re looking for useful, clever or just plain surprising ways to use local data
  • Best completed project (£250) – shipping certainly isn’t mandatory, but there’s glory for those who manage it!

Man, the judging was really, really difficult. The quality we saw from all the teams was simply outstanding. It wasn’t just the data wrangling that was impressive, it was the speed of delivery and the quality of the end products. We went well, well over our allotted 20 minutes and our deliberations could have gone on far longer before we were completely in unison.

Eventually, we did settle on prize winners but my fellow judges agreed every team we saw deserved accolades and recognition for their vision and productions. To that end, I thought I’d share the notes I took during the presentations (in order of appearance):

Bath City Parking by @nickj89 and @reddavis

  • I’m a fan of applications that deal with a single compelling user need, like this one displaying the availability of parking spaces using straightforward maps, simple colour coding and a friendly tone (‘it’s rammed’)
  • Could see it being used by residents and visitors alike
  • I struggled to see how the B&NES data had been put to use (but then I think this was the only team I didn’t get a chance to sit down with beforehand. by @oli_pantelides, @steve_gally, @Dan_Bath, @myoungman and @philipantelides

  • Was one of two hacks looking to breathe life into the Discovery card
  • I liked the gamification of civic participation in this one (‘deeds mean discounts’) but I did wonder whether the examples of neighbours taking one another’s bins out was the right example to bring this to life
  • For me, it was definitely the best UI we saw on the day; I could see people wanting to give it a try on the basis of looks alone, which in the worthy world of civil society is an important factor.

Team ‘Discovery’ by @sstarr, @jordelver, @jackmcconnell and @tomlewisuk

  • The second to try to enhance Discovery card experience, this time putting a wide range of Bath datasets at resident’s fingertips in an easy to pick up application
  • I thought the range of data points was handled neatly and gave the users a lot of choice without feeling overwhelming
  • The rules applied to each data point provided some nice touches (‘it’s going to be cold, time to locate your nearest grit bin’).

How green is your street? by @sophiedrake, @misshebbo and @cderoure

  • A visually impressive example of gamifying environment data to create behaviour change in residents’ recycling habits
  • They were the first team to talk about some of the shortcomings in the local data in their presentation (‘some use postcodes, other related data use wards’)
  • I appreciated what the team had done to make the local tonnage, collection route and household data work together with national data sets.

Road Reporter by @Jack_Franklin, @olliemarsh, @olliejennings and @carl_holloway

  • A feature- and info-rich ‘area hunting’ tool for Bath based on local and national datasets
  • Lots to like here but the simple grading system constructed by the team really impressed me; it balanced out the depth of information the application provided
  • They shipped; go try it for yourself

Should I eat here? by @chrisphin, @twostraws, @SofaRacing and @ian_lockett

  • A nifty solution to a very clear user need
  • The team explained in their presentation how they successfully wrestled food standards and foursquare data together into something useful
  • Could see this one being a favourite of Bath residents and visitors alike

House or boat? by @oliward

  • This was a fun way of driving up awareness of local climate change impacts
  • Didn’t use much in the way of local Bath data, which could have been offset by providing links into the city’s houseboat communities
  • Check out whether you’d be better off with a hull than foundations

Tourist routes by @maydentweets, @whoaitstom and @shenghuahe

  • This was one of three hacks where I could see more value to the council and businesses than residents
  • This provided map-based visualisations of routes taken by tourists around the city
  • The challenge here would be getting tourists to download, turn on and keep using an app to capture the GPS data; tough sell.

Bath walks by @texycon

  • Answered a clear user need based on discovering new walks around Bath, which is a very walkable city
  • There was no ostensible use of B&NES data
  • I thought the challenges element was a little pedestrian; when I met the team they spoke about ideas of using street furniture and locations as characters and bases in much more immersive experience and I think they should have thrown caution to the wind and gone with these clever concepts.

MyBath app by @daveroweit

Data blitz by @azazell0 and @_duncan_

  • Did a very neat job of layering up the many datasets available; in practice, more an application to aid the council and businesses, more than residents directly
  • I was pleased to hear the team had talked to council staff about problems they had encountered with the data
  • Available to play with at

Recyclotron by @thomasfletcher and @_nadnerb

  • The team impressed me with their engagement with their data’, I feel you could have asked them any question about recycling routes and tonnage in Bath and they’d know the numbers
  • I liked how they demonstrated volumes by equating them to household, recyclable objects (‘equivalent of 25 Sunday Times’) and they closed the loop by displaying how much money the council would save  by recycling more in each area
  • How much could you save?

Bath Tourism dashboard by @Takashiyonenaga

  • Takashi – our other lone hacker – struck everyone with his profound words on the importance of comparators when seeking insights from data; his hack compared the performance of Bath attractions with one another, over time and against the region
  • I was struck that the data he used had been rescued out of PDFs and given life again
  • Roman Baths vs Jane Austen?

So, I trust that gives you a sense of just how difficult the teams made it for the judges. It was a nice problem to have.

I hope that the platform Bath Hacked created for these few teams has opened the eyes of the many to the great possibilities that open data [and hack days] presents to Bath, the South West and beyond.  The noises made by the participants and organisers suggests that Bath Hacked will ride again. I sincerely hope it does.

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