A guideline to organising ” Hackathons for Good”

Hackathons can be transformative events that bring together people from diverse backgrounds and skillsets to work toward solving a problem. Most of the hackathons for social good are organised during the times of crisis or around civic data /issues when sufficient attention is present. This provides a channel for concerned people to contribute to creative solutions.

These are mostly organised with good intent, however, it is important to keep some things in mind when organising a hackathon for good. It is important to keep in mind that these events are designed to work out problems that could be sensitive so steps must be taken to protect uses. Hence it is even more important for these to be done/organized with care.  

Based on our extensive experience organising hackathons (and making mistakes), here are some guidelines for any organiser planning a similar event :

  • Ensure the presence of Right Mentors :  

   It is important to remember that the hackathon is not the entire intervention, but part of a long term engagement with communities that are in need. So the hackathon experience has to be a learning opportunity for everyone involved, this requires that strong mentors who have a good understanding of the ground reality, deep understanding of the data and realistic tech solutions are required to ensure success.

   Most people attending hackathons have (thankfully) never experienced humanitarian crises, and so their understanding of the ground realities are often romantic. A lack of experience can lead to creativity in a solution, but this must be balanced with applicability. Building solutions which are unlikely to be used successfully is a poor use of time and resources, as well as simply being disheartening. It is important to instead inform work based on past experience (while still encouraging innovation).

  If you are organising a hackathon, ensure that you have mentors who can bridge these different spaces. These mentors could be people who have built and implemented technology for social good. They could also be people who are practitioners on various issues.

   In the recent years with the influx of Information Communication Technology for Development (ICT4D) solutions in most humanitarian areas has led to brand-new but untenable issues such as

  • Critical Data breaches
  • Building irrelevant/”scratch my own itch” solutions
  • Choosing an non-secure platform to build on

   Experienced mentors will be able to shape the experience, solutions, and later implementation.

  • Right Intentions do not guarantee Right solutions :

   You would be surprised to know how many times best intentions don’t lead to right solutions. For instance, it is definitely not a good idea to stalk someone without their consent in the name of protecting them from harassment, as this continues to disempower them, rather than addressing the core problem. Good intentions are insufficient. Someone wanting to intervene in an unhealthy system has to take into consideration various components like individual privacy and security, local context, culture, and other moral and ethical considerations for a solution to achieve its purpose at a systemic level. It is important to follow responsible practises of development in order to not simply recreate paternalistic approaches in technological interventions.   

   One of the ways of avoiding these mistakes is to enable healthy critique and discussions while building tools. Another good practise is to make a list of “bad-actor” user stories and check if your solutions can stand those tests.

  • Vett your data :

   Hackathons are opportunities to make innovative use of opened up government data and other open data. However, such sharing must not violate the privacy and security of individuals and organisations, and the shared data must be interpreted and used responsibly. Many of the organizations opening up their data are also new to this practice, and so a claim that the data is depersonalized may not be true. Act as an ethical tester and provide feedback to the originating data host. As organizers it is your responsibility to make sure the data is in correct form, safe, and secure for users.

Here is an example of how de-anonymised data can do harm.

   Data from untrusted sources is also questionable. Not only might it violate the consent of those who own the data or have shared it, but it could also provide incorrect analysis, which is crucial especially when working on projects of humanitarian causes.

Hence, as a rule never let anyone use or provide unclean, unvetted data sets.

  • Hacks are not complete solutions :

   A Hackathon is usually conducted over a period of 24-48 hours. This period is long enough to build prototypes of solutions. Solutions in real world need a lot more than a proof of concept for implementation. For example, while working with data collection of a marginalised communities like sex workers, it is vital for the solutions to include security of data. Adding a security layer or anonymising the data is usually not possible within the time period of an hackathon. Such solutions must be worked upon over a period of time and tested thoroughly with those organisations working with similar issues to avoid major damages. It is also advisable to work with the end users for usability and relevance.

  • Learn your audience :

   It is highly important to work as closely as possible with the eventual end users of your hack. Understanding their realities and constraints before you build any solution will go a long way towards successful implementation.

   Most hackathons happen far away from the humanitarian issues they hope to assist. Hence the makers are usually disconnected with the ground realities.

For example: building smart phone solutions for parts of the world which don’t have access to internet or smart phones, or assuming that refugees are poor and disconnected.

   Sometimes it is possible these solutions (even with good research) are not used as intended. In such cases, trust in the creativity of users to find alternative uses for your tool, and focus on the basic needs being met, rather than your solution being what gets people there.

For example: one can create sanitation solutions of remote parts of India only to be later used to store food grains by the local population.

  1. Post hackathon :

   Post hackathon, it is a good practise to encourage all participants to contribute to the hackathon through the following

  • Writing a blog post
  • Releasing the source-code of the hack through open source license
  • Collaborating on the projects with a fellow hackers
  • Working with the winning teams improve their hack further
  • Work with users on open licensing for data

At the end of the day you want your hackathon to empower, inspire, and connect, so that your participants feel they have learned and contributed to something larger than themselves. When you don’t keep everything above in mind you are not contributing to building trust between different communities.

This post was created with inputs from : Chinmayi S K, Willow Brugh, Nisha Thompson, Srinivas Kodali, Zara Rahman and Rishi Bhatnagar 

RHoK Goa April 2015 Summary

Random Hacks of Kindness spread to Goa in April 2015 with the intent of fostering a local sustainable community to enable the local humanitarian work. There was a Hackathon organized on 11th and 12th April at Colva beach, Goa. It was supported by NASSCOM 10,000 Startups.

The problem statements for this edition were pitched and curated a few days before the hackathon by various owners and NGOs. There were around 6 problem statements pitched. Here is a list of the pitches that were made:

1.Organisation: Tara Trust
Tara trust works with street children.
Issue pitched: The need for a system to locate children below 18 (street children) and create a listing of all of them like a census based on locality.
Impact: This helps the trust to gather more volunteers with more street kids.

2. Organisation: Safecity
Safecity works with collecting street harassment reports and creating change through these reports.
Issue pitched: The need for a way to automatically submit harassment reports received to the Goa police stations after segregation of reports based on their respective jurisdictions.

3. Organisation:
Issue pitched: Lack of awareness on mental health and the resulting stigma attached to it reduces the chances reduces help seeking behaviours. Many patients or their families refuse to come in for help as they feel “they are not like the others”. Create a system that reduces this stigma in the community.
Impact: Better mental health care for those who require it.

4. Organisation: ElderCare program
ElderCare program works with senior citizens in goa to cater to their needs and well-being.
Issue pitched: There are no communication systems that can help cater to seniors living alone. A system which can help them communicate their needs and emergencies would be of immense help.

5. Issue: Yellow pages for artisans
Every village (in Goa or elsewhere) has a number of barefoot artisans, service providers, and others, who are looking out for a market. At the same time, there are middle­class potential buyers who need to access such products and services.

6. Issue: Saving Life on Road
Many people die in road accident in India, this project is about saving those lives by leveraging the power of Data Science. Our objective is to suggest optimal deployment of RTO officers and ambulance to avert accidents and minimize medical response time.

On the first day of the hackathon, the following 4 problem statements were chosen as the main focus:

  1. Saving life on road
    2. Problem statement by Tara Trust
    3. Problem statement by ElderCare program
    4. Yellow pages for artisans

After three evaluations on day 1 and two on day 2, the following solutions took form:

Saving life on road
Status of hack:
Completed and available for deployment. The team will be taking it up with the Goa traffic police for the further steps.
Solution: The solution is based on predictive data analysis from previous accidents to identify accident hotspots and to help position the emergency vehicles in nearby vicinity.

Problem statement by Tara Trust
Status of the hack: The main modules have been completed. Integration is pending.
The team created a CMS precisely to help map the children and help assign volunteers through a map.

This hackathon laid the foundation for the RHoK Goa Community and was conducted close to the beach with live music encouraging the hackers in traditional Goan spirit.

RHoKette MSRIT Bangalore 2015 Summary

RHoKette is an initiative to get engineering students to develop their skill-sets to solve real world problems instead of the conventional focus on acquiring jobs in the industry. The format of RHoKette is very similar to that of RHoK but the duration varied from 12 to 48 hours depending on official college permissions.

The RHoKette event at MS Ramaiah Institute of Technology, Bangalore was conducted on 28th March 2015 in partnership with the Association of Computer Engineers, Janaagraha, The Bachchao Project, Sanchaya.net and Project Khel. It was an 11 hour event from 8 am to 7pm with 5 teams and 15 hackers who were led by Vishwanath Kulkarni and Rishi Gautam Bhatnagar. This was the first RHoKette at MSRIT, Bangalore.

The list of problem statements that were discussed at the event are available here:

The teams worked on the following hacks:
1. We For You
Organization: The Bachchao Project
Problem: Lack of a platform for complaints and feedback at airports especially for immigration related issues.
Status of the hack: In progress however a functional MVP was made.
Solution: A platform which can be used to gather all the information about the issues at the airports was built. All the description about the mishaps can be submitted to the authorities using this platform, pictures about the incident can also be included in the same. This platform also comes with an anonymous option. It has been built on MySQL and PHP. The team is really looking forward to take it to the next step.

2. Geo-location tagging for documents
Organization: Janaagraha
Problem: Geo-tagging files collected from various sources
Status of the hack: In progress
Solution: A java based application which could geo-tag files based on the address on the files and store them in a database.

3. Leaf Blade
Organization: Project Khel
Problem: Build a safe space where kids can go and ask questions about sex education.
Status of the hack: In progress
Solution: The team came up with the idea where the users could anonymously have conversations with the qualified doctors in private and no history of the conversation is saved. They could also ask specific questions to the list of available doctors. They used Mongo DB as their database. The demo was not completed, some more integration is required. A feedback mechanism is yet to be integrated. The team is interested in taking the hack forward.

4. Forum for anonymous questioning on Sex education
Organization: Project Khel
Problem: Build a safe space where kids can go and ask questions about sex education.
Status of the hack: In progress
Solution: The team came up with a forum where the people could go and ask questions about sexual education. The users can log in anonymously, hence giving them privacy. The front end of the app was functional and it was equipped with MySQL support. The team is interested in taking the hack forward.

Top Hacks:
1. We For You
2. Leaf Blade

All the projects can be found at:



Random Hacks of Kindness Dec 2014 – A summary

The December 2014 event was conducted on 20th and 21st . The event this time was hosted in partnership with CIS (Center for Internet and Society) ,Mapbox ,NASSCOM (10,000 Startups), Explara and Saakshin (The Bachchao Project ).

Hackathon :

It was attended by a diverse set of hackers. Including a hacker who was 13 years old.The problem statements for this edition were pitched and curated a few days before the hackathon by various owners and NGOs. There were around 11 problem statements pitched. Here is a list of the pitches


On the first day of the hackathon the following 6 problem statements were chosen on day 1 by various hackers to hack on

1. Shabdhakosh :­ Creating vernacular Dictionary and technical knowledge base translation. Since there is very less open relevant vernacular knowledge. This project aimed at increasing that.

2. Enable India I ­: Training visually to read alphabets and words using the hack done in previous rhok a talking keyboard and their personal mobiles

3. Enable India II ­: To Make buildings more Visually Impaired friendly by helping identification of building.

4. Season Watch Maps: ­ Season watch has a database of trees around india and their season changes they needed a Animation of a selected phenophase (leaves, flowers,fruits) for a selected species of tree changing over time on the map of India.

5. Janaagraha Centre for Citizenship & Democracy: ­ Jaanagraha works on BBMP budget and ward works of data and for analysis of this data they use a manual geo­tagging .The problem statement was to create a library replace to automate geo­tagging .

6. Traveller Safe Maps : ­ A traveller in a new city or a new citizen has no idea of crime rates and safe places to stay . A city official or police commissioner has feedback of safety only in the form of crimes registered. There needs to be a mechanism to provide this information . Hence the bachchao project proposed mobile app with safety maps as a solution.

After 2 evaluations on day 1 and 1 evaluation on day 2 . The following statements were worked upon to provide the solutions given below.

1. Shabdhakosh :­ Is a gamification approach to build vernacular translations through web and mobile apps. They created 3 simple games which people use everyday and enabled translations through user actions

Status : Completed

2. Enable India I : ­ Training visually to read alphabets and words using the hack done in previous rhok a talking keyboard and their personal mobiles .

Status : Completed the application to read alphabets and integrated it with previous hack.

3. Enable India II :­ To Make buildings more Visually Impaired friendly by helping identification of building.

Status : preliminary work with ultrasonic waves has been done and they have probed into using camera to identify.

4. Season Watch Maps :­ Season watch has a database of trees around india and their season changes they needed a Animation of a selected phenophase (leaves, flowers, fruits) for a selected species of tree changing over time on the map of India.

Status : Completed the animation for a selected data set. Need to extend this to show it over time and large data sets

5. Solving Bangalore’s traffic woes :­ A team on day 2 looked at the transport problem and decide to work on congestion. The team consisted of the youngest hacker we had .

Over their 3 hours of work they created a concept note with the following ideas :

  • crowdsource direction between places
  •  provide alternative routes dynamically
  • rate routes based on times and days

All the solutions of this edition have been hosted here :


Top Hacks :

1. Shabdakosh

2. Season Watch Maps