Smart Columbus Operating System


July 13th, 2020

Post by Jay Clouse, Smart Columbus Entrepreneur in Residence

More than 100 people with backgrounds in engineering, data analysis, visualization, design, business, law, policy and more came together to leverage the Smart Columbus Operating System to solve problems facing our city.

Our goal with the Smart Columbus Hackathon, held in May 2018, was two-fold. First, we wanted the community to know that they are a key piece in this smart city puzzle, and that we not only valued, but genuinely wanted their feedback. And second, the hackathon was a perfect mechanism to provide a lot of that feedback to the Smart Columbus team in a very quick time frame.

Earlier that month, the Smart Columbus team unveiled the initial version of the Smart Columbus Operating System to the public. The operating system is funded by the $40 million federal grant awarded to Columbus as the winner of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Smart City challenge and serves as the backbone for projects to be funded by the grant.

For months leading up to the hackathon, the Smart Columbus team commissioned a Technical Working Group (TWG) to help the hackathon planning team source, conceptualize and define use cases and their technical requirements. The TWG identified dozens of potential use cases for the operating system, as well as beginning to identify potential data sets to be used to address those issues.

When the weekend of the hackathon came, we were prepared to get attendees up to speed both on the tool and all the information we had gathered to that point. Members of the TWG volunteered as use case ambassadors for six of the use cases created and were given 10 minutes to share as much background and context on that use case as possible. The Smart Columbus team and members of the TWG were on hand all weekend to help attendees triage any issues and answer all questions.

Friday evening, more than 100 people with backgrounds in engineering, data analysis, visualization, design, business, law, policy and more came together to leverage the Smart Columbus Operating System to solve problems facing our city.

To kick off the event, Michael Stinziano, Columbus City Council president pro tem, discussed the important role open data can play for the future of our city. 

Jordan Davis, director of Smart Columbus, gave attendees a holistic overview of the Smart Columbus approach. Following Jordan, Brian King, consultant and technical program manager for Smart Columbus, gave more detail into the operating system and its current capabilities.

Finally, we got to the pitches.

Each of our six use case ambassadors explained our chosen use cases:

  1. Columbus Parking Services
  2. Heartbeat of the City
  3. Food Access
  4. Accessible Transit
  5. Rest Area Parking Availability
  6. Bridge Height Intelligence

After use cases were presented, we opened the floor for attendees to pitch their own problems and ideas to be addressed.

By the end of Friday evening, over a dozen teams organically formed to take on the use cases as well as a couple of the individual ideas.

On Saturday, teams reconvened and began exploring the operating system data sets as they related to the problem each team was focused on. The Smart Columbus team held a morning workshop to share best practices on using the operating system and the ambassadors were on hand to share even more information as needed. Saturday was a day of exploration, problem solving and creation for the hackathon teams, and the Smart Columbus team learned a tremendous amount from attendees.

On Sunday, teams prepared for final pitches. Each team was given seven minutes to pitch the technology that they built, which was judged on:

1. User Validation

  • Does your solution align with a real problem?
  • Have you identified a target user?
  • Who did you talk to?

2. Technical execution and design

  • Creativity
  • Insightfulness
  • Technical difficulty
  • Functionality
  • Intuitiveness

3. Business Model / Sustainability

  • Who does this create value for?
  • How can this sustain itself and generate revenue?

Teams prepared their presentations and walked through a practice pitch in the early afternoon to hone their message.

That evening, each team presented their solution and progress to a panel of community judges, including a member of the Smart Columbus team, a leader of the TWG, a mobility entrepreneur, a venture capitalist and a technologist. 

Highlights included:

  • Several data visualizations tying data sets together to better understand how once-siloed data relates to one another
  • A fully-functioning web app to allow those with mobility challenges to document problem areas like broken sidewalks
  • An application connecting those with fresh food to food pantries
  • A multi-source tool for helping bikers find safer routes from point A to point B

The event truly provided a ton of feedback to the Smart Columbus team to help us further develop the Smart Columbus Operating System to serve the needs of the community.

And another incredible win for the event was the formation of a community-organized meetup group, the Smart Columbus Open Data Enthusiasts (SCODE)

SCODE meets once per month and has organized into smaller teams to continue the progress from the hackathon in building functional products around the use cases and using the Smart Columbus Operating System. For an open data platform to be successful, it requires community and culture change to embrace the technology, and SCODE is showing just that.


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