[okfn-za] Data hackathon challenges and why questions are important

Siyabonga Africa siyafrica at gmail.com
Tue Mar 12 19:04:40 UTC 2013

I totally agree with this post. Hacking, designing, building without a
clear question to answer is almost always going to lead to disaster.

Thanks Adi for posting this.


On Tue, Mar 12, 2013 at 7:22 PM, Adi Eyal <adi at burgercom.co.za> wrote:

> ---------- Forwarded message ----------
> From: "FlowingData" <newsletter at flowingdata.com>
> Date: 12 Mar 2013 6:03 PM
> Subject: Data hackathon challenges and why questions are important
> To: <adi at burgercom.co.za>
> Cc:
> **
>  <http://flowingdata.us2.list-manage2.com/track/click?u=f538bce868aac1144d248c0bc&id=b275b95e92&e=b011bde465>
>  Data hackathon challenges and why questions are important<http://flowingdata.us2.list-manage.com/track/click?u=f538bce868aac1144d248c0bc&id=3346985fd5&e=b011bde465>
> Mar 12, 2013 04:38 am
> Jake Porway, executive director of DataKind<http://flowingdata.us2.list-manage.com/track/click?u=f538bce868aac1144d248c0bc&id=1daea7725c&e=b011bde465>on data hackathons and why
> they require careful planning to actually work<http://flowingdata.us2.list-manage.com/track/click?u=f538bce868aac1144d248c0bc&id=d427c6d0cb&e=b011bde465>
> :
> Any data scientist worth their salary will tell you that you should start
> with a question, NOT the data. Unfortunately, data hackathons often lack
> clear problem definitions. Most companies think that if you can just get
> hackers, pizza, and data together in a room, magic will happen. This is the
> same as if Habitat for Humanity gathered its volunteers around a pile of
> wood and said, "Have at it!" By the end of the day you'd be left with a
> half of a sunroom with 14 outlets in it.
> Without subject matter experts available to articulate problems in
> advance, you get results like those from the Reinvent Green Hackathon.
> Reinvent Green was a city initiative in NYC aimed at having technologists
> improve sustainability in New York. Winners of this hackathon included an
> app to help cyclists "bikepool" together and a farmer's market inventory
> app. These apps are great on their own, but they don't solve the city's
> sustainability problems. They solve the participants' problems because as a
> young affluent hacker, my problem isn't improving the city's recycling
> programs, it's finding kale on Saturdays.
> Without clear direction on what to do with the data or questions worth
> answering, hackathons can end up being a bust from all angles. From the
> organizer side, you end up with a hodgepodge of projects that vary a lot in
> quality and purpose. From the participant side, you're left up to your own
> devices and have to approach the data blind, without a clear starting
> point. From the judging side, you almost always end up having to pick a
> winner when there isn't a clear one, because the criteria of the contest
> was fuzzy to begin with.
> This also applies to hiring freelancers for visualization work. You should
> have a clear goal or story to tell with your data. If you expect the hire
> to analyze your data *and* produce a graphic, you better get someone with
> a statistics background. Otherwise, you end up with a design-heavy piece
> with little substance.
> Basically, the more specific you can be about what you're looking for, the
> better.
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Siyabonga Africa
Digital Strategist - 24.com
South Africa
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