(Photo: Courtesy of gletham)
This weekend, programmers in five Colorado cities will compete with each other to create apps that harness the power of reams of public data sitting in government agencies’ virtual file drawers. 

The challenge, called GoCode, is an initiative of the Secretary of State's office. Part of a nationwide trend to make data paid for by tax dollars more useful to the public, the contest is designed to find solutions to five problems identified by businesspeople around the state.

This particular challenge – which Secretary of State Scott Gessler believes is the first state-sponsored civic apps contest – is specifically intended to help Colorado's companies.

GoCode asks coders to dream up apps that will help businesses find capital; locate expert help and other resources from Colorado colleges and universities; get site selection information; understand the competitive landscape; and find local business partners.

Coders are coming together starting Friday, March 21, in Denver, Boulder, Colorado Springs, Fort Collins and Durango. On Sunday, judges will choose two finalists from each region.

Those finalists will be provided with resources to help them further develop their apps. Three winners – a grand prize winner and two others – will be named in early May. They’ll share a $50,000 pot of prize money.

Prior to GoCode, several major cities have run similar challenges. The BigAppsNYC contest, for instance, spawned apps such as HealthyOut, the 2013 Grand Prize winner, designed to help users find healthy restaurant meals; and ChildCare Desk, a smartphone app for locating nearby day care.

Coders in Chicago used public bike-share data to design an app that shows users where to find stations with unused bikes. And an informal group of coders – often called hackers – came together to create SchoolCuts.org, showing Chicago school information, when it became clear that the city was planning to close more than 100 public schools.

Advocates of these civic apps challenges – which often include hours- or weekend-long hackathons – say they stretch public dollars.