With the next Random Hacks of Kindness event looming and me organizing a satellite event here in Southampton, UK I found I have been writing a lot of similar emails and violating the DRY principle at every turn.

The purpose of this post is to put a stop to that. Eventually this should merge into an official FAQ on the site (as far as I know there isn’t one currently).

Please let me know if there is stuff I should add/improve.

1. What is a RHoK?

The idea behind a Random Hacks of Kindness event is that, for one weekend, people working around development and social issues (local charities, NGO’s, The World Bank, researchers, …) sit together in a room with people from IT / Technology (software developers, engineers, technical people). The development people present one or more problems they would like technical help with. The technical people form teams around the problems they find interesting and try to come up with a prototype solution. At the end of the weekend teams present their solutions, prizes may be awarded, and the hope is that the seed that was planted during the weekend will continue to grow.

So essentially its all about getting together for a weekend, learning, being social, and doing something for the better.

A global RHoK event connects about 15-20 cities worldwide. This really makes RHoK  unique as its a global, coordinated event where every location has its own live video stream and collaboration between sites is encouraged.

2. Who can attend? Why should you attend?

You should attend if one or more of the following apply…

  • …you like the idea of taking a weekend to work on something for the good of humanity and the environment (whatever your background or skillset!)
  • …you prefer action over talk
  • …you know about software, ICT, or some other technical domain
  • …you have afinity / experience with a problem domain within the scope of a RHoK (international development, social issues, education, environment, etc.)

The core message is, its your motivation that counts, not your particular skill set!!

3. Why should you attend?

  • You get to work on a useful problem, contribute something back, and make an impact.
  • Its a great learning experience. You may have to work with tools you are not very familiar with and with people from diverse backgrounds.
  • Its a great opportunity to network, branch out laterally, and meet all kinds of diverse and interesting people.

4. What are some example problems?

It is important to remember that technology in itself is very rarely a solution and many of the problems facing humanity and the environment are highly complex and multifaceted. Technology typically works as an amplifier. In that light some possible problems could be:

  • A researcher needs to interactively visualize/analyze survey data from Kenyan farmers on a website or Google earth.
  • Oxfam wants a smartphone app they can use to measure and track the impact of their poster campaign.
  • The World Bank has financial data on many countries that they want to mine and visualize to improve transparency.
  • A local charity wants a smartphone app to help monitor and track Alzheimers patients.
  • NASA has a lot of satellite images that they want to make available for agricultural analysis.
  • A facebook game to make people aware of their energy footprint.
  • A smartphone app to support sexual education for teenagers

Some previous examples: Foodmovr, Taarifa (currently deployed in Uganda), and CHASM:

See the full RHoK list of problems and solutions for more inspiration. All solutions must be made freely available under an open (source) license.

5. What happens after the event (sustainability)?

RHoK problems are typically quite tricky and require lots of skills coming together. Obviously you cannot expect a fully featured solution over a weekend. However, what you can expect is some kind of proof of concept, proving that it can be done.

It then comes down to the team to take things to the next level. Sustainability partnerships may be made available, but ultimately it comes down to the team members. Many teams don’t make it to this next stage, but those that do are a real inspiration for the rest. Even if the project does not live on, its still a success since..

  • people were motivated to do something for the better
  • the problem owner probably learnt a lot about scoping his/her problem, possible solution strategies, etc.
  • new skills were learnt and new friends were made

6. I want somebody to work on my problem, what do I do?

  • Contact the organizer of an event near you.
  • Write a problem statement, (2 paragraphs – 1 page) explaining the problem, why its important, the scope, what a solution would look like, if it were to be successful what the next step would be, etc. This is then uploaded to and attached to the local event.
  • Prepare 1-5 slides outlining the problem and pitch it in 5-10 minutes during the event. Pitching is best done by yourself or somebody familiar with the problem.
Experience shows that the more somebody is physically present and available, the higher the chances of a team picking that problem, and the higher the chance of success.
Not to say that it wouldn’t work otherwise, but a physical presence helps a great deal. In cases where a physical presence is not possible for some reason skype can be a fallback. The main issue is that the team needs to be able to get feedback, ask questions, etc.

7. What does an event look like?

See this summary overview of a previous RHoK. A great slideshow is:

RHoK Around the World: Photos

8. I want to learn more?

Google for ICT4D, RHoK, social hacking, humanitarian hackathons, etc.

I guarantee that will keep you busy for a while.


5 thoughts on “The RHoK FAQ

  1. Pingback: License to RHoK, Dec 1-2, Southampton, UK | Dirk's Page

  2. Pingback: We RHoKed it. Again. | Dirk's Page

  3. Pingback: 3rd RHoK from the South | Dirk's Page

  4. Pingback: RHoK 4 | Dirk's Page

  5. Pingback: Random Hacks of Kindness Event: 1st - 2nd December at University of Southampton #rhoksoton - WSI

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