Hackathons – modern versions of workshops – are now popular also in the public sector. These events follow the service design principles; experts from various fields, customers, entrepreneurs and members of other interest groups gather together for a day or two, form teams, discuss, ideate and develop various solutions for a certain wide and complex subject matter.
Hack the Budget was held on 31.10.2016 at Design Factory, organized by the Ministry of Finance of Finland in cooperation with Open Knowledge Finland and Rapid Action Group. The aim of the event was to explore new approaches to government’s budget data and explore how it could be made more understandable and usable for relevant stakeholders. For example, could the budget data be visualized somehow so that it would be easier for the citizens to piece together where their taxes go? Or how the budget data could be utilized when evaluation of social impact is of interest? The state budget is especially interesting when the state has a monetary deficiency and an aging population – citizens may ask where their tax money go, now and in future.
Hackathons and Jams – what is the difference between them?
Hackathons focus on solutions. The organizers have described the subject matter and the problem which can be wide and complex – and new, innovative solutions are required. Therefore it is only good that the teams consist of experts from various fields. It is also good if potential product or service providers and customers join in. In the end of the day (or two days) the teams present various solutions for the problem described.
Service Jams on the other hand focus more on the problem. The organizers give the teams a wide and complex theme. In Jams the focus is on sketching the problematic theme and realizing what should be developed, why and how. In the end of the day (or two days) the teams have crystallized one problematic area and developed initial concepts for solution.
Hack the Budget was a one day event. The participants were given a task to think of new approaches to government’s budget data and explore how it could be made more understandable and usable for relevant stakeholders. The following sources were given as a background material and data: tutkibudjettia.fi, stat.fi (Statistics Finland), valtiokonttori.fi (State Treasury), Open Spending, OECD and the website for Hack the Budget (kaikkienbudjetti.fi).
Although the event was organized as a Hackathon there was also a Jam track. Altogether eight teams were formed as follows:
Jam track: What problems could be solved by visualizing the state budget?
- Team: Youth guarantee (nuorisotakuu.fi/en)
- Team: Rationalization of the public sector
- Team: The future of Finland
- Team: Funding of culture
Hack track: How the state budget data could be visualized?
- Team: Simulator of regional reform
- Team: OECD & Open Spending
- Team Affecto
- Team: Me and my budget – 100 years and now
The OECD & Open Spending team won the Hackathon. Their solution showed how the data of 2014 could be internationally harmonized and how it could reach a commensurable format.
How the public sector could utilize hackathons?
Hackathons are experimental in nature and therefore there is certain kind of uncertainly in the picture. This can be something new for civil servants who are used to exact and linear planning.
The public sector could utilize the wisdom of networks, stakeholders and customers in planning and ideation more often. Both Jams and Hackathons could serve that purpose well. One example where hackathons could be used is public procurements. There are already some cases of that e.g. Tekes (the Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation) and the Prime Minister’s Office have utilized hackathons in the early stage of their public procurements when mapping possibilities in the market.