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Using the Social Platform for Open Data (SPOD) at Accountability Hack

On the 9th of June, the second edition of Accountability Hack was held at the Dutch House of Representatives building in The Hague. The goal of the hackathon was to challenge developers and data analysts to build apps and tools that improve accountability of government spending and performance. In the days leading up to and during the hackathon we used ROUTETOPA’s Social Platform for Open Data (SPOD). In this blogpost we will elaborate on why and how we used SPOD.

Accountability Hack is an initiative led by the Dutch Court of Audit, Open State Foundation, several Ministries, House of Representatives and Statistics Netherlands. More and more local and national governments are releasing open data in the Netherlands. But how can society help the government to be more transparent and monitor income and expenditure and how governments performs on policy and goals?

At Accountability Hack 2017, around 150 developers competed to build working prototypes that do just that: using open data to promote public sector accountability. 30 teams worked the whole day and at the end they pitched their application prototypes. Team Delight won the grand prize of 2.500 euros with an app that compares spending of municipalities. The app gives information on how much a municipality can save on spending related to health care, education and public security by comparing expenditure with other municipalities.

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The winning app ‘De Gemeente Deler’ by Team Delight

You can view the Accountability Hack Aftermovie below.

Aftermovie Accountability Hack 2017 #AccHack17 from Open State Foundation on Vimeo.

SPOD

During the hackathon participants were able to use ROUTETOPA’s SPOD as a tool for communication and collaboration on open data. The platform is set up for open data users and aims to promote awareness among citizens on open data  so that they become open data users thus expanding the open data community. The platform also aims to facilitate interaction between data publishers and open data users.

SPOD has not been used at a hackathon before. For Accountability Hack we wrote a tutorial, both in English and Dutch, on how hackathon participants can use the platform for finding additional team members, working together before and during the hackathon, share work, communicate with each other and make visualisations.

Before the hackathon, ROUTETOPA gave a tutorial during the Pre-hackathon meetup, during the hackathon they were present for technical support and ROUTETOPA’s Jerry Andriessen also gave a presentation during the Accountability Hack Side-Event for non-developers.

How we used the platform

We used SPOD’s ‘What’s New’ timeline for general communication before and during the hackathon. To announce new datablogs (a blog where in which a tutorial is given for a specific dataset), the start of break-out sessions and give clarification on hackathon rules. At the end of the day participants had to submit their apps via SPOD. So in the timeline all the 30 apps that were made during the day can be viewed.

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An app submission via SPOD

This helped the jury decide which app should win. Due to the high amount of participating teams, each team had 90 seconds to pitch their app. The SPOD submissions helped the jury to get some background material for the apps. For us as organizers it is also convenient to have a public inventory of submitted apps that everyone else can also view.

Evaluation of CoCreation during a hackathon
Few people however used SPOD for co-creation and visualisation before or during the hackathon. This has three main reasons. First because the participants of the hackathon mostly started working on their app on the day of the hackathon itself and when they did preparations, most of them did it via e-mail or other existing channels. A lot of preparations also were face to face because a lot of participants work or study together.

The second reason has to do with the nature of a hackathon. During a hackathon most people sit in the same room and work closely together. They do not need a platform to communicate and work closely together on the day itself.

And the final reason has to do with the people that visit a hackathon. Most participants are developers or data-analysts. So they are used to working with open data and also different file formats like JSON and web services (API’s) that are not yet compatible with SPOD. The main goal of SPOD is to reach as many people as possible with open data and to enable social interactions between open data users and local Governments. Most hackathon participants are already familiar with open data and are professional re-users.

What do we learn from this experiment?

  • Professional open data re-users like developers will probably not use SPOD for visualizing data because they work with their own tools to explore and visualize the data, they can however use it to stay in touch with with data suppliers and request for more or other data;
  • Also it is also not very suitable for events where people work together in the same room and for a short period of time. There is no big incentive for them to use a new platform if they can just talk to each other and have a short time-frame to work together;

On the contrary, SPOD is perfectly suitable for longer data challenges where teams work also work separately from each other. Because they are not living or working close to each other or the time span of the challenge requires time to use an online platform for collaboration. An extra incentive for use would be if the data publishers are all available on the platform so they can use the platform for questions or feedback regarding data to help get teams started.

To conclude – SPOD is valuable for the general public that is relatively new to working with open data. Students or active citizens can perfectly use the platform to get acquainted with the topic of open data, find data on connected data platforms, explore the data, collaborate and easily make visualizations that can be shared. We hope these are valuable lessons learned for people that are planning on using SPOD and it will help them determine if the platform is the best fit for their users, time-frame and setting.

Foto: CC-BY Sebastiaan ter Burg

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