This spring the World Bank will partner with the Government of Moldova and a range of stakeholders to organize a competitive Open Innovation Hackathon focused on the reuse of open data in Moldova. This is more than just another apps competition, which generate both enthusiasm and skepticism for their ability to promote innovative and sustainable reuse of open data.
Our aim is to help build a high-capacity ecosystem around Moldova’s open data. Working with data is hard - and the Bank has a real opportunity to help foster long-term capacity within countries and communities to better leverage open data for faster innovation and smarter development.
The World Bank’s goal is to support a process that aims to produce sustainable, high-capacity, open data co-creation, with active leadership by civil society groups and agencies. We see the upcoming Open Innovation Hackathon in Moldova as an engagement platform first and foremost, not as an apps generator. It will be part of a co-creation lifecycle meant to link the defined needs of user communities with developers and innovation networks. It is also intended to help formulate and launch partnerships on Open Innovation that ideally will link Moldova to European innovation networks.
The long-term objectives are not the release of open data or the creation of killer apps, though both are unquestionably valuable. The real goal is to catalyze new partnerships that become long-term producers of viable apps for an Innovation Economy.
One vital aspect of our lifecycle approach is constant stimulation. Building a co-creation ecosystem—as opposed to just organizing events—requires making, renewing and expanding connections and opportunities for collaboration. One contest or hackathon may be great. But it will not create an Open Innovation Ecosystem, or promote a broader Innovation Economy.
A more sustainable approach to open data would be a co-creation lifecycle with a sequence of activities in four phases focused on: (i) demand identification, (ii) open data release, (iii) ideation/proof of concept, and (iv) prototyping, scaling and funding of apps development. Community engagement is critical in each phase.
By sharing the following proposal for defining and integrating these phases, we hope to open a dialogue with the open data community on how this could work better. Although it is more focused on Moldova, the phases and activities might be adapted for any setting.
Phase 1: Demand Identification
Goal: Identify specific priorities, needs, ideas and potential partners among agencies and user communities.
A key, early phase in any co-creation (or open data) lifecycle focuses on identifying user demands. It is best not to think in terms of datasets, apps or services. Simply put, what do people want? What are their most pressing problems or needs? Answer these questions and you ensure that open data and apps make a real difference.
For governments and anyone else looking to promote open data and apps, this requires an investment in dialogue – with agencies, civil society organizations and other user communities – to identify priorities, needs, ideas and potential partners. Governments need to help connect ideas and defined needs to data.
A one-time meeting will not suffice. It is more like a runway for the later take-off of your contest or open data release. As with airplanes, the journey (indeed the entire value proposition of flying) does not end with taxiing down the runway or lift-off. It is the same with open data. This early phase is essential, but neither it nor a portal or the release of datasets will deliver the full measure of open data value.
Demand identification should consist of a set of activities such as:
- Determine major priorities for government investment or “fixing” for an upcoming period (for today and the next two years).
- Identify what data is most important to, or associated with, these areas (including what GIS data exists or should exist that can be paired with this).
- Workshops for NGOs that include both training on open data and a discussion of their needs in terms of information and possible “services” (best if this includes NGOs related to those major government priorities).
- Workshops for media that include training on open data journalism and identifying areas of interest for journalists and editors.
Phase 2: Open Data Release
Goal: Develop a sustainable pipeline of high-quality open data, and grow a community of users who engage around that data.
Efforts on the “supply side” of open data—acquiring and releasing datasets—should not be addressed in isolation, if the goal is building a sustainable Open Innovation Ecosystem. A continuous supply of high-quality data is necessary, but not sufficient. It must be linked to the identification of real user needs (Phase 1), and collaborative co-creation and communities (Phases 3 and 4).
Open data releases should not be conducted as discrete events. They must be done in context, as part of a set of activities that might include:
- Publicize release of new, high-value data sets with a major communications effort to stakeholders already engaged and new audiences not yet engaged.
- Outreach to apps development networks such as Code4Europe, Open Cities and Apps Circus.
- Organize engagement events (online and live) with NGOs, media, universities and other stakeholders to discuss data, its alignment with their priorities, and its weaknesses. The objective is engagement with data and among stakeholders.
Phase 3: Ideation & Proof of Concept
Goal: Generate partnerships for apps co-creation (agencies, NGOs and developers) while also ideating and developing apps ideas with value to identified user communities.
In classic economics, the equilibrium point is where supply meets demand. With open data, supply meets demand at ideation points (or events) such as hackathons and TechCamps. Again, these events should not be viewed as apps generators. They are engagement platforms – where people meet, mash up ideas, data and coding in a visible, collaborative setting. The express purpose is to generate proofs of concept and initial development of ideas for apps and eServices, as well as teams interested to move projects forward into fuller development and scaling.
If a hackathon or contest produces no killer apps, but facilitates the emergence of a new team of developers—or even better, connects developers to a “client” agency, company or organization with an identified need—it should be considered an unqualified success.
In the ideation/proof of concept phase, a portfolio of activities can be developed that lead up to a hackathon or similar event, and then leverage its outputs:
- Create or participate in challenges/contests with high-priority datasets and either an expressed NGO or agency need in order to generate ideas and early app development that can feed into a hackathon.
- Outreach to companies (e.g., mobile operators) to sponsor a grant or challenge for a hackathon, and/or consider offering winning apps on their platform.
- Facilitate local developers to participate in regional or global networks such as the Code Academy in EU and then return to participate in the local hackathon.
- Conduct local trainings for the developer community on common tools for apps using open data.
- Identify “showcase” apps (currently under development or new ideas with demonstrated demand) to feature in the hackathon along with any and all other ideas and apps that participants bring.
- Integrate the participation of users—NGOs, media, agencies—with expressed areas of apps interest as well as international developers in the hackathon.
- Use international participation in Open Innovation Hackathon to enable discussions and about a collaborative or joint iHub type entity forming in Moldova linked to European innovation networks and partners.
- Design and finance the hackathon so that winners receive short-term contracts to complete development of a fully functional, beta version of their apps.
- Conduct a visible media campaign during both the run-up to the hackathon and at its conclusion to showcase the event and its winning apps and developers.
Phase 4: Prototyping, Scaling & Funding
Goal: Integrate developers from ideation/hackathon activities into larger networks for capacity-building, collaboration and commercialization of promising apps.
The co-creation lifecycle does not end with a hackathon or ideation event. The goal is building a sustainable Open Innovation Ecosystem, and the recipe requires ongoing engagement to encourage continued development by all participants, not just the hackathon winners. Activities in this phase might include:
- Connect hackathon developers to living labs networks, iHubs, incubators, mobile apps labs or other development platforms.
- Follow-up discussions and planning for a collaborative or joint iHub type entity forming in Moldova linked to European innovation networks and partners.
- Encourage sharing of apps on code repositories (e.g., GitHub, Civic Commons Marketplace) and, if relevant, apps stores (e.g., iPhone, Android).
- Facilitate local developers to join developer training/intern networks (e.g., through Commons4Europe, Open Cities or university programs).
- Introduce developers to private sector firms, industry groups or civil society networks.
Governments committed to open data need to invest in the entire open data co-creation lifecycle. A portal filled with massive amounts of data is essential, but it is not enough. Governments need to invest in open data, engagement and co-creation.
Let us know what you think about this approach. We are open to your ideas an dinput, and hope to improve this before it officially launches later this year.