Mayor Walsh Turns to the Tech Community to Simplify the Permitting Process

Continuing his commitment to innovation, the mayor is launching a "hack-a-thon" challenge.

Mayor Marty Walsh and his administration envision a City Hall with less paperwork, fewer lines, and a lot more Internet activity.

With so many people trying to navigate the city’s website and Walsh’s headquarters at Government Center to obtain certifications for tasks ranging from building permits to street occupancy approvals, officials announced Monday that they’re dipping into the tech community to find talents who can help streamline and improve operations by hosting a two-day hack-a-thon at District Hall.

“This is really just a continuation of the mayor’s vision not only to bring technology to the way we do government, but to bring solutions and help crowd source through the innovation community we have in Boston. We think there’s an amazing amount of creativity and excitement in the tech community to help with [governmental operations],” said Daniel Koh, Walsh’s chief of staff.

The August hack-a-thon, called HubHacks, is sponsored by the mayor’s office of New Urban Mechanics and the Department of Innovation and Technology. It’s meant to serve as a starting point to make the steps currently taken to file for permits less confusing by keeping in line with the tools available in the 21st century.

Officials from the mayor’s office claim that more than 100,000 applications for roughly 40 different permits are filed annually with the city. Only 12 can be applied for online.

To deal with the mess, Walsh is introducing a new application programming interface, or API, so tech-savvy residents and workers can come up with creative concepts that feed directly into the city’s system. “Allowing to have the API available will help us move from 12 [online] permits and expand that number,” said Deputy CIO Matt Maryl, adding that the city would eventually like to see every permit online.

For now, through HubHacks, Walsh and his team hope to remove roadblocks that stall what should be a seamless application process. “What we hope to get out of the event is to engage the tech community in solving some common problems. There are four bite-sized challenges that we see as components for online permitting in the future,” said ‎Maryl.

Besides making online permitting easier, topics they’re taking aim at for the hack-a-thon include helping people figure out which permits they need for a project, letting residents track the approval progress of a given permit, and allowing city workers to easily access an applicant’s information from the system’s database.

Koh said the hack-a-thon will help the city innovate internally, while partnering with people in the community who may have alternative solutions. “This is sending a clear message that we want your ideas, we want your innovation, and we realize it’s not just going to come from City Hall,” said Koh of the contest.

Earlier this year, Walsh’s administration introduced online dog registration, and almost immediately residents made use of the user-friendly accessibility to save them a trip downtown. Koh said he sees this contest as an extension of that type of innovation, to make people’s lives that much easier. “Maximizing efficiency is a byproduct of this,” he said.

For more information about the project visit the hack-a-thon website.