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The Power of Open: Crowd-Sourced Ideas & Crowd-Powered Solutions

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#DDC2012 + #RHoK - The people spoke, financial data was published, and answers were developed.

What did you do this weekend? How was your weekend? For most of us, these are simple routine questions which often warrant rote and unrehearsed responses: “fine,” “great,” and perhaps even a nonchalant, “not bad.” However, those who took part in the World Bank Finances Development Data Challenge (DDC) on Friday and Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK) on Saturday & Sunday were not only witness to but a part of an extraordinary series of events that displayed the power of crowd-sourced ideas and solutions. They might tell the story of an amazing three days, a story of collective passion, resolve, collaboration, and results. It is the story of how an idea was formed, empowered, and developed over what was collectively just over twenty-four hours.

On Friday afternoon, the crowd spoke, pitched ideas, and demanded more financial development data. The World Bank listened and responded by publishing data overnight. On Saturday morning, a challenge to add value to the data was issued to a group of developers, technologists, and interested non-techies. By Sunday afternoon a web application called “Show Me the Money” was presented and awarded the top prize at Random Hacks of Kindness DC. FFilter, a privacy scraper code, was also written at RHoK DC as a follow-up to an idea generated by the DDC’s “Big Data” table. A variation of the original DDC “Aid Effectiveness” idea, application/widget “CharityViz,” also won the top prize at RHok Southampton, UK. To top it off, most of the participants on the winning hackathon team in DC had never met one another before- including a developer/designer in India who volunteered to remotely help with the project. It was truly a dizzying series of unprecedented events.

And that in a nutshell captures the last seventy-two hours.

So how did we get there? It was a simple idea wrapped around the use of open financial data: could we crowd-source an idea and crowd-source a solution? In a single weekend?

Let’s recap, shall we?



[Winning RHoK Team (L to R): Vijay Rao, Julia Bezgacheva, Matthew McNaughton, Serign Jobe, Chelsey Towns, Sam Lee, Matt Glover, Gaurav Tiwari ]



[Screenshots from RHoK DC’s winning application “Show Me the Money” which visualizes the flow of World Bank open contract data through interactive charts & maps]


 Development Data Challenge [Friday, June 1]


[Teams "ideate"]

Crowd-sourcing ideas was the first step. The Development Data Challenge brought together CSOs, data experts & enthusiasts, technologists, and creative types to brainstorm together around how to better utilize open financial data for positive impact.

After quick introductions and a call for participants to join various theme tables, the brainstorming sessions were off and running. Eight self-selected groups worked simultaneously to explore their respective issues. World Bank VP & Controller and Acting CFO Chuck McDonough also stopped by to engage participants and answer questions.

At the end of the second brainstorming session, each team presented an idea to the audience and panel of judges. Below is a summary of the ideas that were presented (Take a look at the “raw” DDC ideation data here):

[Winner] Contracts/Procurement – Idea: “Connect Contract & Corporate Data” led by Chris Taggart (Open Corporates)

[Popular Choice] Mobile & Web Applications – Idea “Fix My World” App led by Matthew McNaughton (World Bank)

Citizen Engagement/Community- Idea “Culturally Sensitive, Relevant, & Visual Data Sharing” Lucia Grenna & Teddy Mbusa Sondata (Connect4Climate)

Aid Effectiveness – Idea: “Rapportive for development… on speed” led by Tariq Khokhar (World Bank Data)

Big Data – Idea: Privacy “Scraper” Code/App led by Dmitry Kachaev (Open Muni Labs)

Data Journalism – Idea: “Banjo/” for Journalists & Data Geeks led by Ben Colmery (International Center for Journalists)

Assurance & Anti-Corruption- Idea “Development Data Minority Report” led by Prasanna Lal Das (World Bank Finances)

Design/Data Visualization- Idea “Development Data Visualization Network” [slide shots] led by Stephen Davenport (Development Gateway) & Jon Schwabish (Congressional Budget Office)

A panel of judges selected the Contracts/Procurement idea as the winner based on the criteria of creativity, potential impact, collaboration, and feasibility. However, one problem lingered- the data that would be needed for that particular idea to be explored further was not available in an open and usable form. 


The Middle [Friday 7 PM - Saturday 9 AM]

Aware of this dynamic, a group of senior Bank officials decided to take action. In the immediate aftermath of the Development Data Challenge, they moved quickly to seek out an approval to publish the necessary contract data on the World Bank Finances site to explore the winning idea. Elevators were rushed into, hurried steps taken, but ultimately, they were unsuccessful in locating the colleague in question. As a final attempt for the evening, a plea was sent via e-mail seeking approval for the release of a sample World Bank Contracts dataset for the Random Hacks of Kindness event kicking off at 9 AM the next morning.

11 hours quietly went by. But at 5 AM on Saturday morning, an e-mail acknowledging and approving the request was received. World Bank Finances data expert, Julia Bezgacheva worked furiously to have the data ready and published it at 9 AM. Equipped with this new data, the World Bank Finances team was able to make its case to the RHoK community that had gathered to “hack for humanity.”


Random Hacks of Kindness DC [Saturday & Sunday, June 2-3]



[Jane Campbell kicks off RHoK DC]

Because the World Bank’s data had literally been made available a matter of minutes before RHoK DC, none of the developers in attendance were familiar with what was being presented. But a pitch was made, and the road towards developing a solution stood before the group. It was at this point that the “random” in RHoK began to manifest itself in remarkable ways.

Lucas Gioffi, a RHoK participant, explored the new World Bank data and created a visualization showing the frequency and flow of sole-sourced contract money. This infographic helped refine the group’s vision for what would be built with the data.



[ 2012 Single Source WBContracts Visualization]


It was soon thereafter determined that an interactive application visualizing the flow of the new contracts data should be built. Just a few hours in, the team received a request from a designer/developer in India who expressed interest in helping out remotely. One by one, new members joined and worked to move the collective vision forward. Coders (and even non-coders) coded, designers designed, and the team raced towards the Sunday 2 PM finish. The synergy was incredible, and being awarded the top prize at RHoK was a fantastic bonus.




What’s next for this idea?

Team “Show Me the Money” has made early preparations to possibly showcase and build on their RHoK application during DCstartupweekend on June 15-17. 

Among other to-be-determined next steps, the group is keen to enhance the current version of the app by:

1. Digging deeper into sub-national location data & development indicators

2. Tying Supplier Information to Corporate Databases

3. Exploring Citizen Feedback mechanisms to verify & collect more information

We all set out to answer a few questions. So what can be done with open financial data? What can be done with an idea? Through the process, those questions were explored, others discovered, and a far more interesting story emerged. The end of this story is yet to be written…


Samuel Lee

Consultant with SuM4All

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