Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK) is a community of innovation that is focused on developing practical open source solutions to disaster risk management and climate change adaptation challenges. RHoK is a collective initiative by Google, Microsoft, Yahoo!, NASA and the World Bank, which brought together thousands of people June 4-5, 2011, from over 18 locations around the globe to create open solutions to solve some of humanity’s toughest challenges.
The US events took place in Hartford, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Seattle and Silicon Valley. International locations included Toronto, Canada, Aarhus, Denmark, Basel, Switzerland, Berlin, Germany, Bangalore, India, Buenos Aires, Argentina, Kampala, Uganda, Lusaka, Zambia, Melbourne, Australia, Nairobi, Kenya, Trento, Italy, and Santiago, Chile.
Applications created in past RHoK events are already making an impact across the globe. “I’m OK”, an SMS (Short Message Service) application that lets people inform their families of their status during emergenices, was actually used on the ground during the devastating earthquakes in Haiti and Chile in 2010. The World Bank is piloting CHASM, software for visualizing landslide risk, in the Caribbean. Other apps have received support and interest from governments, non-governmental organizations (NGO) and other international organizations around the world.
RHoK #3 was the most successful RHoK event yet and is a great example of what NASA is doing to help accelerate innovation, collaboration and development of open technologies. To learn more about the vision and some of the results of this worldwide effort, please continue reading.
We also encourage you to check out the rest of our blog posts from the event:
What is Random Hacks of Kindness?
RHoK works by bringing experts in development and volunteers with a broad set of skills in software development and design together to create solutions to some of humanity’s toughest challenges. The events draw the best and the brightest hackers from around the world to sprint on developing technology solutions. It has been described as “a globally coordinated competitive hacking event where anyone interested in technology (software developers, independent hackers, students, etc.) comes together with experts in disaster risk management (NGOs, organizations within the U.N., individuals involved in relief and development work) to create software-based solutions that address problems causing human suffering.”
Random Hacks of Kindness was founded in 2009 in partnership between Google, Microsoft, Yahoo!, NASA and the World Bank. Since then thousands of volunteers have worked on applications that are already making an impact.
How would you describe the “hackathon” as a concept?
Wikipedia has a great definition: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hackathon. They call it “an event when programmers meet to do collaborative computer programming” and give some great background on the concept.
What is “Open Government” and what does that have to do with RHoK?
The Open Government Initiative is an innovative strategy for changing how government works. NASA’s founding legislation in 1958 instructed NASA to “…provide for the widest practicable and appropriate dissemination of information” and embedded the principles of open government into the agency from its founding. The Initiative, which we are implementing under White House direction via the President’s Open Government Directive, is our commitment to revisit these values as we create a new level of openness and accountability in our policies, technology, and overall culture.
Last April, we released NASA’s Open Government Plan which sets up 150+ milestones for more than 22 key projects and 3 Flagship Initiatives. NASA’s Flagship Initiatives include open source software development, the establishment of the NASA Nebula cloud computing platform, and the expansion of participatory exploration as a core engagement process across the agency. You can see the plan and track our progress at: http://www.nasa.gov/open. We just released a really great infographic that talks about many of the Open Government related projects we are working on at NASA, which you can view here: http://www.nasa.gov/open/infographic.html.
The philosophies and practices of the Open Government Initiative reflect the shifting global environment and the challenges that this poses to government. We have a mandate from our nation’s leadership to engage the public in the core of our mission, giving us permission to do things differently. We see Open Government as a catalyst to improve the way we communicate, the way we collaborate, and the way we do business.
RHoK is a project of the Open Government Initiative within the Office of the Chief Information Officer. The Open Government team is part of the core strategy team for RHoK and attends some of the physical mainstage RHoK events and also participates in the online RHoK community year-round. Our hope is that we will serve as another resource to share information about what NASA has to offer for developers who are creating practical open source, open technology solutions.
What does the “Open Government Team” do?
The “Open Government Team” is responsible for the implementation of the Open Government Initiative at NASA. We work every day to establish a solid foundation for institutional change at NASA based on five guidiing principles:
Why does NASA participate in RHoK?
NASA is one of the founding partners of RHoK, along with Google, Microsoft, Yahoo! and the World Bank. It’s a unique collaboration that encourages developers and experts to use their skills to help change the world. NASA participates by encouraging the utilization of NASA data – specifically, the use of what we call “open data.” NASA has immensely valuable open databases, which can serve as the content to many potential world-changing apps.
Why does NASA think RHoK a good resource for innovation?
A main focus of the Open Government Initiative is to offer citizens and communities of innovators opportunities to participate in NASA’s space exploration mission and likewise, for NASA to work with citizens. RHoK is extremely important for us because we strive to learn from the know-how and entrepreneurial spirit of those outside government institutions. We have a number of “innovation platforms” that we have deployed to gives citizen explorers an opportunity to access our scientific data and help solve our toughest challenges. RHoK is one of those many platforms for innovation.
Since Open Government is all about embracing the concept of “open innovation” – the idea of bringing together thousands of software developers from around the world to crowdsource some of humanities toughest challenges is really appealing to us. We value working in a transparent, participatory, and collaborative fashion because it helps us improve performance, inform decision-making, encourage entrepreneurship, and solve problems more effectively. Additionally, working with Google, Microsoft, Yahoo. and the World Bank to host Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK) is a unique and valuable collaboration. We are proud that it is dedicated to using technology to make the world a better place
What is “open data” and where can I find NASA’s open data?
At NASA, we are constantly looking for new partnerships in order to accomplish our mission to explore our universe and improve life on Earth. Sharing our data is vital to this vision. Since NASA’s inception, the agency has archived vast amounts of diverse data from many exploration missions. Today, the digital landscape has changed, and the amount of data produced has increased exponentially (NASA now archives over 4TB of new Earth Science data each day), but the vision itself is no different. Sometimes this data is used to help understand our origins in the universe. Sometimes we end up with a more extensive view of the Earth’s climate or learn how to operate aircraft more effectively. Through collaborations like RHoK, we hope that some of our data will be used to solve some of humanity’s toughest challenges.
Open data is the acknowledgement that the value of data can continue to grow, even after its original primary application has been realized. NASA encourages RHoK developers to build on our open data in new ways to create cutting edge applications for the benefit of society. By participating in RHoK events, NASA not only can share its invaluable information with the RHoK community, but it can inspire the development of new ideas and the creation of open technology that may can help serve humanity and further the vision in unpredictable ways.
To view NASA’s open data visit: http://www.nasa.gov/open/data.html
How can these rapid, focused hackathons serve as a model for new ways to tackle issues that challenge the agency?
NASA recognizes that innovation is always a numbers game; the more you do it, the better your chances are of being successful. No single breakthrough, no matter how bold or well executed, will pay dividends forever. Because there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people around the globe looking for opportunities to participate in challenging and meaningful projects, NASA is intentional about empowering citizens to become a source of critical skills and knowledge, as well as sustainable competitive advantage. What is most important about RHoK is not the final product, but the process. RHoK breaks down barriers that prevent innovation and challenge the way business has always been done by taking advantage of many of the possibilities created by working in a networked digital world.
What is a “successful” outcome from a weekend hackathon?
A successful weekend for us is one in which hundreds, if not thousands, of developers from around the world gather together to invent technology that didn’t exist 24 hours ago! It’s about having an idea and implementing it. It’s about celebrating the process of innovation that has made America what it is today. This is especially relevant in a time of increased economic and budgetary constraints.
What are some examples of solutions developed at RHoK?
More then 18 RHoK events were held this past weekend. The NASA OpenGov team participated in two mainstage locations – Seattle and Philadelphia – and have summarized the problems and solutions below. The diversity of these project areas are pleasantly surprising and a great example of the type of work done at RHoK: climate change, food sources, government transparency, web anonymity, non-profit visibility, and environmental hazard awareness. It was exciting to see projects that scoured everything from local Philadelphia zip codes to the huge amount of daily NASA climatological data, as well as low- (SMS response) and high- (high altitude balloons) tech solutions.
Six project areas emerged in RHoK Philadelphia:
Seven project areas emerged in RHoK Seattle:
How did the products developed make use of space technology directly (data, imagery, satellite systems) or indirectly?
Two examples of RHoK projects from this past weekend that incorporated space data/technology into their solutions:
How can NASA serve as a catalyst for these sort of events across the Federal government?
We are living in an era of accelerated change that is quietly threatening the effectiveness and existence of many organizations – especially including government. The world around us changing and no industry is immune including healthcare, entertainment, energy, and journalism as well as politics and aerospace. With the new realities of living in the information age, citizens are increasingly turning to the Internet as a platform to engage with government, to find relevant and accessible information and to uncover new opportunities to participate. RHoK is a reflection of this shifting environment and NASA’s participation in RHoK can serve as a catalyst for these sorts of events across the federal government. RHoK is a key element in NASA’s innovation strategy and events like it will help to reshape the future of government in the information age. RHoK symbolizes what can happen when thousands of people collaborate in an open, transparent and participatory way to change the world in a positive way.
I’m interested in participating or hosting a RHoK event! Where can I find out more information?
For more information about Random Hacks of Kindness website at www.rhok.org.
Johnson Space Center