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Apps4NSW: Community collaboration on Open Data innovation

The NSW Government's Apps4NSW competition is a fun forum promoting engagement between community and government, where members of the public 'hack' government data, to create innovative apps. The annual competition aims to improving the delivery of government services using Information and communications technology.

In 2013 the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) challenged the public to use the data within the BioNet and the Vegetation Information System Classification databases to provide simple tools that allow users to identify and take an active interest in biodiversity conservation.

The 'hackathon' took place at the Museum of Sydney on 10 April 2013. Office of Environment and Heritage staff in attendance made their expertise and knowledge available to the 'hackers' in an informal setting.

The best pitches were shortlisted and a prize, donated by the Department of Finance and Services, was awarded to each winner.

Developing innovative apps

Among the proposals for the OEH challenge, two apps stood out:

  1. The Pocket Ecologist helps increase community, industry and landholder awareness of the types and significance of their local vegetation through geospatial mapping.
  2. The BioNet Sightings Checker encourages the community to validate species sightings across NSW, where sightings of non-threatened species are regarded as outside their accepted distribution.

Both apps are innovative solutions to making data and science available to the community. They bring OEH data to life and encourage people to explore the nature around them.

The Pocket Ecologist is a useful tool for environmental consultants, the Rural Fire Service, catchment management authorities, local government, and farmers. It helps to easily identify the biodiversity at a specific location.

Validating species occurrence records is a highly time consuming process. The BioNet Sightings Checker relies on users to confirm a sighting by uploading a geo-referenced photo of the species to the database.

By involving the community in a fun and engaging way, the BioNet Sightings Checker helps OEH to validate records of species sightings far more effectively.

The hackathon, app development process and end products follow Open OEH and public participation (IAP2) principles. They increase transparency and community access to information, foster collaboration with external app developers, and encourage community involvement via data generation and application.

This experience marks the beginning of a cultural shift away from information control, where OEH focuses on delivering high quality data services, while app developers and the community are free to innovate in the use and application of biodiversity data. The Office of Environment and Heritage is currently developing the BioNet web data services that will allow these and other applications to become a reality.

App display screen

Page last updated: 13 July 2015