One of the main challenges of participating in Hackathons is finding an innovative idea to work on. With hackathons being designed to identify solutions to real-world problems, most aim to enhance use of open data which will benefit both the government and its citizens.
A hotel manager receives a complaint from his tenants about the elevator being too slow. He then goes to confront the engineer in-charge to get a plausible solution to this problem. Obviously, the engineer gives him a technical solution that would need him to take down the elevator and result in tanking lots of cash making renovations.
Not being satisfied with this answer, he outsources for ideas from a wide range of people. Fortunately, a psychologist offers a different perspective saying that the problem isn't the elevator being too slow, but rather the wait (in the elevator) is too long. The solution: placing a mirror costing about 4 dollars, inside the elevator for its users to occupy themselves.
The point is, extending our capacity by availing open data allows more people to come in and redefine the problem into something more actionable and tractable. The hotel manager did the same by opening the problem to be solved by anyone. The psychologist ended up redefining the problem and provided a better solution.
Defining a problem isn't enough, we also need open data to understand problems more effectively by finding patterns and establishing solid evidence.
Open Government Data (OGD) plays a huge role in increasing a country's capacity to solve problems, since it's a Source of Open Data. OGD fosters innovation that's data driven for building citizen-centric solutions through apps. Building local solutions for local problems by potential local entrepreneurs (that's you as a hackathon participant). Who better to relate, understand and handle the country's problems, than its own citizens?
In Kenya, for instance, the government decided to avail data publicly in efforts to increase accountability and transparency. You can find this data in the Kenya Open Data Website.
A great place to start would be going through different categories for the datasets then... wait for an epiphany.
Once you find a category that interests you, browse through the available data.
Search for a format that would be most useful to you CSV, PDF, JSON, XML, HTML etc. You could also look for any APIs available for your data.
The above data shows Monthly Summary of Road Fatalities in Kenya between 2011 - 2014 ; you could use it to flag blackspots in the country or causes of fatalities in potential danger zones to alert passengers in those areas.
The downside to OGD is that a lot of it is outdated and hence might not be as useful. But it might still be good enough for a project for your portfolio.
If using government data for your projects won't work for you, don't be lazy, checkout Project ideas: How to come up with one by Faith Tanui.