The School of Information Studies (iSchool) and the City of Syracuse announced today the launch of the Civic Data Hackathon: Syracuse Roads Challenge, powered by AT&T. 

The partnership between the iSchool, the City, and AT&T creates the first community-based hackathon in Syracuse that encourages community involvement in support of solutions to City infrastructure issues.

Challenge participants will be provided with data about the current conditions of the City’s roads and will have the opportunity to create new applications and predictive analyses which could be used to help the administration address road quality issues.

The challenge is designed to engage technologists, designers, developers, and anyone else who is interested to use their skills for social good. It is one of the first times in the United States that a municipality has led a hackathon focused on road infrastructure.

Syracuse City Mayor Stephanie Miner has made issues surrounding infrastructure a focus of her administration.

“Syracuse is one of the first cities to engage experts in new technology to brainstorm solutions to the longstanding challenges we face. This type of bold innovation is what is needed to tackle the infrastructure issues faced by our community,” said Mayor Miner. “I am excited to see the bold ideas from these developers who will use their creativity and tech savvy to answer our longstanding questions.”

“I’m proud that the iSchool will be partnering with the City of Syracuse and AT&T by lending our expertise to the hackathon,” said Elizabeth D. Liddy, Dean of the iSchool. “Our faculty and students are deeply engaged in using Big Data to address a wide range of issues. They will be providing participants with guidance on evaluating and working with the City’s datasets to generate solutions to address issues which Syracuse and all cities are facing.”

The challenge was created, in part, by alumnus Sam Edelstein, who earned his master’s degree in Information Management and a certificate of advanced study in Data Science at the iSchool. Edelstein now serves as the Chief Data Officer for the City of Syracuse, and sits on the City’s newly formed innovation team.

“As an alumnus, I know the curriculum that is taught and the types of problems students are prepared to take on,” said Edelstein. “When I was a student, I worked with data from other cities, and now in my position with the City, I want students working with our data, helping to solve our problems. I feel they can offer a fresh perspective, and they are entrepreneurial and creative in their work. I’m sure we’ll learn a lot based on what students create.”

The City has a vast collection of data pertaining to its roads, Edelstein explained. “We know about the quality of our roads, the number of times they have been complained about, and the number of potholes that have been filled on those roads. And we’ll release that data. Challenge participants that choose to analyze that data will find a lot of interesting details.”

In addition to road data released by the City, Edelstein has also provided data from a number of other sources that can be combined with the City’s road data to add new layers to the challenge possibilities.

“What makes this challenge interesting is that other levels of government – county, state, and federal – all collect and publish data, too,” said Edelstein. “Getting information about Syracuse roads from these disparate data sources is likely something that has never happened before, and it could show how important making data open and available is to solving problems.”

“AT&T is proud to collaborate with the City of Syracuse, Syracuse University and the other community tech organizations involved to provide this unique challenge to students and career technologists in Central New York,” said Marissa Shorenstein, AT&T’s New York president.  “This challenge showcases how technology and data can be used for social good to address issues impacting the region.”

The challenge kicks off on Monday, September 26 when the City releases the data. Participants have two weeks to work on their projects, and can participate in the Hack Upstate Fall Hackathon held on October 8 and 9 using the City datasets, if they wish. 

The iSchool will provide open office hours with faculty members for any challenge participant to drop in and discuss the datasets, or receive advice on their project. Those office hours will be held on Sunday, October 2.

Details and a full schedule of the events, as well as links to the data, are available on the Challenge website.