Details for the Austin Mayor’s Blockchain Challenge

Kerry O'Connor
Jul 20, 2018 · 4 min read

Calling all blockchain and interaction design aficionados looking to beat the heat next weekend for a cause!

On July 27–29, the City of Austin and Dell Medical School will host a blockchain challenge at the City of Austin Innovation Office. The event aims to help those experiencing homelessness more easily validate their identity to access services more easily with less friction.

Our Goals for the Weekend

Here are the four goals for the Challenge weekend:

1) Prove or disprove that blockchain technology is better than a traditional shared database for validating identity and enabling access to information that will in turn make it easier to access homelessness services. Here are the assessment guidelines that we’ll use to test this hypothesis.

2) Demonstrate a minimal viable product that lets people experiencing homelessness easily store documents that help them access services. A low-friction user experience is critical for a successful MVP. Here’s some great blockchain design advice.

3) Continue to develop the body of evidence that we’ll use to submit for the Mayors Challenge grant application from Bloomberg Philanthropies. If successful, the City of Austin could win $1 million or $5 million to continue pursuing these solutions. Specifically, we need demonstrate:

  • Evidence that the idea can have the desired impact (see impact goals below)
  • What are the the most important metrics we’ll be able to generate
  • Key roadmap elements required for successful full-scale implementation
  • The biggest risks to successful implementation, and mitigation strategies

4) Build awareness and community around the potential use of blockchain for civic and social good, and how technology in general can help end homelessness.

What’s the weekend worth to attendees?

  • Help prove the usefulness of blockchain technologies for the civic and social sectors.
  • A chance at winning $2,000 for the winning submission or $1,000 for the runner-up.
  • Build evidence for our grant application to Bloomberg Philanthropies. See details here:
  • Test your solutions with real people, get advice and critique by blockchain experts, service providers, and community members.
  • Get credit for being awesome!
  • Great food!

Getting On the Same Page

Vocabulary is tricky when we’re working across sectors. Lucky for us, the American Council for Technology (ACT) and Industry Advisory Council (IAC) has put out a Blockchain Playbook for Government. In it, they recommend a framework-based design that will establish guidelines that are modular, reusable, and extendible.

We’ve taken a stab at such a framework, understanding that projects built today will have to be reworked or re- implemented onto the eventual leading platforms in the future. Here’s the framework and vocabulary we’re using in this project — we’re focused on the document as the unit of measure. Yours might be different — but at least you can connect to us, and let us know where you disagree or need to deviate. And we can quickly get on the same page over a short weekend.

Putting Technical Design Decisions in Context

You’re the tech experts, and you know best. What we in the public sector know is that to make change, we have to work with the adjacent possible and nudge it into the future. If you want to get into the government head-space on this technology, the OECD has a great document about blockchain in the public sector. And here’s more from ACT-IAC on evaluation criteria for blockchain in the public sector.

“It’s a great anomaly to find someone who has all their identity documents,” said Jeremy Davis, an EMS with Austin’s community health paramedic program. “To get them properly connected to homeless services, you need their birth certificates, social security cards, health insurance records — all those are interdependent.” And often, Austin’s homeless don’t have any of them.”

- quoted in City Lab, The Tech That’s Changing How Cities Help the Homeless

Next up

The next message we send out before the event will focus on how we see an MVP roadmap, which will help you work through technical decisions. We’ll look at a completeness / comprehensiveness matrix that helps us jointly ladder up to an MVP and beyond.

Whew! That was a lot, but it should give you the context you need to build strong (and hopefully winning!) solutions for the Challenge. As always, contact us at if you have thoughts or questions. We look forward to seeing you at the Challenge to hack this forward!

- The Mayor’s Blockchain Challenge Team -

P.S. — We mentioned the long term impact we hope to create. We’ll leave it here, in case it sparks other use cases, or you get creative about how your platform might help us measure this impact.

We hope the blockchain-based solutions we test at the Challenge will help:

People experiencing homelessness:

  • Increase their agency to achieve their own goals, and complete tasks that improve their chances of accessing vital services.
  • Increase their motivation to take the next steps in self care.
  • Overcome barriers to accessing vital health and human services.
  • Control their own information and records.

Homelessness service providers:

  • Eliminate miscommunication and missed opportunities.
  • Get more complete and accurate health information from individuals and other service providers.
  • Compile and manage complex combinations of records that individuals must submit to receive services.
  • If approved by the individual, provide important records to other service providers almost seamlessly.


Stories of Design, Technology, and Innovation in the civic melting pot of Austin, Texas.

Kerry O'Connor

Written by

@kerry_atx = personal search for knowledge and creative expression; civiqueso = professional voice on civic innovation, design, open gov



Stories of Design, Technology, and Innovation in the civic melting pot of Austin, Texas.

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