The world’s first public, hybrid, multi-location, tech-for-good hackathon!
Hackathons bring people together for a short period of time to work collaboratively on technology projects. They’ve been a part of DemocracyLab’s culture since our launch in 2018. At Hacky New Year 2023 we explored new partnerships and models of collaboration to convene what we believe was the world’s first public, hybrid, multi-location, tech-for-good hackathon.
Connecting across continents and cultures
To kick off 2023, DemocracyLab built on last year’s collaborations with Code for All and Code for America to convene our 5th annual Hacky New Year event. Code for All connected us to the teams at Code for Japan and Code for Africa. Together, this cohort of collaborators convened a trio of hybrid hackathons in Tokyo, Lagos and Seattle. These events engaged 100+ volunteers to contribute in-person and online to more than 20 tech-for-good projects spanning three continents and cultures. It was a fun and collaborative experience for all, and a welcome return to real-life interaction after more than two years of virtual events due to Covid-19.
On Saturday, January 28th, Hacky New Year got started in downtown Tokyo, where participants gathered at the Kambin Hub to work on five tech-for-good projects. This was Code for Japan’s first in-person gathering since the easing of Covid restrictions, and participants welcomed the chance to connect in real life. One participant, Mr. Yoshizawa, said “I was able to directly feel the atmosphere and speed of real communication that is unique to face-to-face interaction, which is different from online. I was inspired by the other participants, so I feel strongly that I would like to participate again.”
The event was conducted in Japanese, and remote participants joined from Okayama and Hokkaido. Projects ranged from Hackdays, an effort to use Web3 technologies to help civic technologists account for the value they create, to an anti-poverty training platform, and a tool to visualize animal shelter locations.
It’s been nearly five years since DemocracyLab launched its open source platform connecting tech-for-good projects and skilled volunteers at the 2018 National Day of Civic Hacking in Seattle. It felt great to be back among friends at the Reactor on Microsoft’s campus in Redmond. Seattle has been slow to return to pre-pandemic normal, and more than half of attendees opted to participate virtually. Ten projects and approximately sixty volunteers contributed their talents, tackling everything from homelessness and hunger to sidewalk accessibility and conviction vacation. Teams came from the Seattle area, as well as from Georgia, Arizona, California and Hawaii. Teams were able to effectively blend in-person and online participation to make significant progress in a collaborative format.
On Saturday, February 11th, the team at Code for Africa worked with Charter Project Africa to convene teams to combat disinformation in Nigeria. Teams gathered in person at the Impact Hub in Lagos with additional participants from elsewhere in Nigeria and around the world. Participants hacked in a competitive format, working to build tools that address the hackathon’s problem statement: “Nigeria’s elections are being targeted by online extremists, who are trying to polarize and radicalize voters. This ranges from hate speech and incitement to coordinated disinformation or conspiracy claims.”
Six projects participated in the event, each with their own approach to combatting disinformation and strengthening Nigeria’s democracy. Projects were subjected to vigorous, analytical and direct questioning from the event’s judges, characteristic of Nigerian culture. The feedback was useful to all participating projects, helping them refine their approaches and accelerate their development.
The top two teams were awarded prizes. 1st place awarded to ChatVE, an AI powered chatbot that can be integrated into WhatsApp or other platforms as a virtual assistant to educate voters and factcheck online content. 2nd place given to TRULLY.AFRICA, a platform that will allow users to search for information, share links to have their validity assessed, and post content to have it fact-checked.
A successful experiment and future iteration
Things rarely work perfectly the first time they’re attempted, and this event was no exception. Coordinating schedules, venues, technology, and expectations across different continents and cultures proved to be challenging, fun, and rewarding. Though there is much to improve upon, the joy, empowerment, learning, and sense of accomplishment was evident on participants' faces at every location. We’re proud to have been able to work with such excellent partners around the world, and we're looking forward to the next opportunity to explore the boundaries of civic collaboration at Earth-a-thon 2023 on April 22nd!