Saturday, June 13, 2015

Hacking for Humanity in Sydney

Greetings from the Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK) Sydney winter hackathon, in the Commonwealth Bank headquarters at Darling Harbor. There are about fifty people who will spend the weekend working on one of six projects designed to help the world.

We are listening to the people with the six projects, who are pitching to the hackers, who then decide what to work on for the rest of the weekend.

The projects

The first project is Communiteer to manage skilled volunteers for not for profit organizations. The second project is iDiversity to provide information on community services which were previously allocated by government but now will be provided competitively. BenJam is to help kids with autistic spectrum disorder (this was a project last year as well. There is a prototype tablet app for kids to communicate with their carers. The Hive  wants to provide a guide to the services available to residents of Mt Druitt in Sydney. The Beauty of Tech aims to encourage women to consider technology careers.

The event is about cooperation, rather than competition. In that spirit, two of the teams have decided to combine their resources. A combined back-end group is building a database system while another group designs the front end. They will then split up to build the specifics of their applications. It will be interesting to see how they have done tomorrow.


I am one of the judges for RHOK Sydney, who will be using five criteria:
  1. Applicable
  2. Approach
  3. Progress
  4. Usable
  5. Problem solving.
One thing which strikes me is how much the not-for-profit community projects are adopting for-profit business techniques. One example of this is marketing techniques which personalize the message, so rather than saying your organization provides services to a group, one individual gives their story. Another is to treat volunteers as contract staff, giving them small specific tasks.

On the other hand there are lessons from the not for profit sector for business. One is to have very easy to understand messages and interfaces, where your clients have disabilities and very stressful lives. One example given was how complex the multi-touch interface of a tablet computer can be to use for someone who can only point and click and cannot understand why there is a delay between clicking and something happening.

Solving these problems have considerable commercial applicability. As an example I am trying to work out how to get from Guangzhou Airport in China to the Open University of Hong Kong (OUHK) overland. This involves (as far as I can tell) three subway systems, a high speed train, a shuttle bus and two customs posts. While services such as Google Maps help with the route, problems such as how to get a subway ticket are very complex. The organization which can solve this problem could earn billions of dollars, as well as reduce billions of tons of carbon emissions.

ps: At the moment I am designing a course to help university students who enter start-up competitions (and will get the credit).

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