Last week, Decision Mechanics participated in a “hackday” run by Aid Information Challenge.
A hackday is formed from the following ingredients:
- problem owners;
- data analysts and visualizers;
- software developers; and
- coffee, pizza, doughnuts and beer.
Partipants volunteer a day of their time to come together at a common location—in this case it was the Guardian newspaper offices in London—and see what they can create.
The Aid Information Challenge hackday was focused on trying to improve international aid transparency through visualization of large public datasets. At the start of the day, the audience is asked what they would like to have built. While this question is mostly directed at the problem owners, anyone can contribute a project idea.
Last week’s projects included:
- cleaning up a Ugandan aid database so that it could be used in further studies;
- visualizing the flow of aid from donors to recipients;
- exposing datsets via web reports; and
- development of a wiki to track the progress of individual aid projects.
Individuals then self-organize into teams based on the projects that they are interested in (or believe they could contribute to). While hackdays are not formally organized around the principles of Open Space Technology, there are some similarities (e.g. flexibility to step in and out of projects).
At the end of the day participants present what they have managed to develop, sparking more ideas—and possibly encouraging those with resources (e.g. government agencies) to take some of the ideas forward.
Restricting the effort to a single day focuses everyone’s attention, and brings the ideas to the fore—rather that the implementation details. The structure of the day and the use of volunteer labor remove bureaucratic barriers—which could be an eye-opener for some organizations. It’s amazing what some people can do when given the freedom to create.
Any organization/industry that has large datasets and complex problems, and that would benefit from an injection of fresh ideas, should definitely consider running a hackday.