When 200 hackers took on California’s digital government

May 7, 2024 – The California Digital Government Technology Hackathon, held on March 7-8 and hosted by UC Berkeley Haas School of Business, Wtech international community for women leaders in technology and online business, the Ministry of Digital Transformation of Ukraine, and facilitated by the California Department of Technology (CDT), brought together participants passionate about using technology to improve government services through the creation of innovative, open-source solutions and creating new software applications within a limited time frame to address real-world problems.

Top Hackathon solution demonstrated to a team at CDT.

Held at the Haas Business School amid California’s thriving tech environment, the hackathon hosted 206 on-site and remote participants who collaborate and prototyped solutions to enhance citizen engagement and harness digital innovation for better governance.

An outstanding aspect of the two-day hackathon was its focus on inclusivity and accessibility. Participants from various backgrounds, including developers, designers, policymakers, and domain experts, joined forces to contribute their diverse perspectives and skills. This diversity ensured that solutions were not only technically sound but also responsive to the needs of different communities.

The hackathon’s challenges covered a wide range of topics, reflecting the complexity of governance in the digital era. Teams addressed issues such as data privacy, cybersecurity, civic engagement, and service delivery, showcasing the potential of technology to drive positive change in government.

Wtech Lead Partner Ivanna Wendel said she was thrilled to see so many people come together at the California Digital Government Technology Hackathon. “It was amazing to see how using technology and working together can solve important challenges in government. We focused on creating an environment where everyone could share their ideas and build practical solutions that can be used right away. I’m proud that we were able to produce real, actionable results that California can implement immediately to improve government services.”

Over the course of the event, which included a presentation on the State’s digital services by State Chief Technology Officer Jonathan Porat, a welcome from the Counsel General of Ukraine, and a presentation by that country’s Ministry of Digital Transformation, participants immersed themselves in intensive problem-solving, leveraging cutting-edge tools and technologies to develop innovative solutions. Mentors and experts provided guidance and feedback, helping teams refine their ideas and overcome technical hurdles.

At the end of the hackathon, teams presented their projects to a panel of judges. Erika Bahr and Gufran Mirzan from the Bay Area startup Daxe.AI received top honors for their user-friendly tool that enables residents to authenticate state documents, pictures, and websites. Other notable submissions included an emergency preparedness and response app for natural disasters, and a chatbot that provides information about the State Digital Equity Plan and related equity programs.

Every participant took away valuable experience, new connections, and contributions to advancing digital government technology. The hackathon demonstrated its potential to drive positive change for the public good. State CTO Jonathan Porat said, “It was inspiring, with many participants asking how they can use technology to support CDT and the State’s critical goals around accessibility, security, and digital services.”

The outcomes of the event will extend beyond its duration, springing ideas and solutions that may influence policy decisions and inspire further innovation to shape the future of digital government in California.