The premise of a hackathon is simple.
Technology enthusiasts come together to brainstorm and come up with solutions to a given challenge within a short time frame. The tech-based solutions are demoed and judged, a team is deemed the winner of the hackathon, they are awarded a prize, and more often than not that’s the end of it.
The Indy Civic Hack, however, now in its 7th year, takes this concept and uses it for the good of our community. Each year, the civic event brings the local tech community together to take on challenges facing our neighborhoods. Participating teams are given a specific amount of time to explore and build creative, innovative solutions to overcome those challenges and improve our community using technology.
This local event holds a special place in the hearts of everyone here at Level Up. Not only because we believe in the power of technology to serve the greater good and its ability to improve the lives of everyone, but also because it has led to one of our most cherished partnerships. A partnership that started with a winning solution at the 2018 Indy Civic Hack and continues today.
How it started:
The focus of the 2018 hackathon, in collaboration with Indy Hunger Network (IHN), was on solving the food insecurity crisis, which impacted one in five Marion County residents, leading to nearly 50,000 missed meals on average per week. The challenge given to the hackathon participants was to create a tech-enabled, data-driven ‘Food Compass’ that would help connect hungry Hoosiers with resources like food banks, pantries, free meals, and free groceries.
In the 24-hour time frame, our team came up with a solution that included a multi-channel, smart chatbot mobile app that helps provide information on food assistance benefits and resources by simply answering the questions a user would submit, such as, ‘where is the nearest food pantry?’ Another key feature of the app was giving it the ability to communicate with users via SMS, which allowed the solution to be used by residents who may not have access to a smartphone or data plan (watch a demo).
The chatbot solution our team came up with took home the first-place prize at the hackathon, but we were able to take away much more as we saw this solution as just the starting point of a platform to serve our community.
Our discussions with Indy Hunger Network continued well beyond the hack. We all understood the challenge facing our city, and that our solution could play a role in solving it, so a partnership was formed with The IHN and The City of Indianapolis to continuing building the solution derived during a 24hr hackathon and get it into the hands of those that needed it.
Through that collaboration and thanks to other organizations like Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield Foundation and IU Health, we were able to take our hackathon concept and leverage our headless infrastructure platform, Alpha Blocks, to quickly design, build and release the Community Compass mobile application for iOS and Android devices to Marion County residents in early 2020.
How it’s going:
Now, nearly three years after the hackathon, our partnership continues with Indy Hunger Network and The City of Indianapolis to find creative and inclusive ways of leveraging the Community Compass App to better serve the residents of our community. The app currently helps nearly 20,000 residents find food resources monthly throughout Marion County and has become multi-lingual to help our non-English speaking residents as well. But we aren’t done yet.
Community Compass Continues to Evolve:
As we continue to get feedback and explore new ways to reach more and more individuals in need of community resources, the platform evolves. We are happy to share that a web-based version (check it out here) has just been released to increase accessibility and help those who may be without a mobile device. The web version will also include 10+ language translations to help serve everyone within our community as well as voice-to-text capabilities in the near future.
Helping residents in Marion County find food resources is obviously great, but Indy Hunger Network and our team have much bigger plans for the future of the Community Compass platform.
We are working on expanding the platform to help bring the solution to everyone throughout the state of Indiana by the end of 2021 and helping community members find resources beyond food assistance. The Community Compass app will soon also include assistance for individuals looking for housing and/or utility resources.
What started as a 24hr challenge back in 2018 at the Indy Civic Hack, has turned into a valued and extremely beneficial long-term partnership with Indy Hunger Network to help do our part in serving the community and improving the lives of individuals and families through the use of technology.
The moral of the story; you never know what can happen at a hackathon, or beyond it.
We are happy to be involved in this year’s Indy Civic Hack as sponsors and mentors and look forward to seeing the next great tech solution to help improve our communities.
The hackathon takes place from Aug. 13-29th, and you can register your team or as an individual here – https://indycivichack.hackerearth.com/ or feel free to contact us directly to explore other ways you can be involved.
For updates on Community Compass or to see how you can get involved, check them out here – https://www.indyhunger.org/compass/.