Could hacking competitions help the public understand economics?

Last weekend the Indian government ran a very interesting experiment – a ‘hackathon’ designed to encourage economic growth in the country.

The hackathon was a 32-hour competition where young software developers, designers, and filmmakers competed to win a cash prize of 25,000 Indian rupees (about £300). The participants were expected to produce infographics, apps for phones, or films using data from the government reflecting their plans for the next five years.

In short, the government was providing economic growth data and asking these young and creative people to tell the story of how India will grow in the next five years in a way that would be interesting to normal people – the kind of people who usually snooze when GDP projections are featured in the press.

Government ministers also spent the day before the hackathon working with the BBC to take ideas from the wider community outside of India. Anyone could directly pitch his or her ideas to the government using the BBC India Twitter account.

This is a great idea for a number of reasons. First, it demonstrates that the Indian government is prepared to listen to ideas from outside India and to expect Ministers to openly debate ideas as they arrive. Second, it shows the value of the crowd. For the sake of a small cash prize the collective brains of many thousands of people can be accessed and their ideas can then inspire many millions of people.

Imagine if the government had commissioned an advertising agency to make their economic plans more interesting. It would probably have cost many millions of dollars to create a film and it would be from the imagination of grey-bearded advertising executives – hardly as inspiring as letting the youth of the nation design the message.

If this is how the government of India can behave, tapping into the collective intelligence of young creative Indians and the wider online community, then how can you improve the way your own company or organisation gets ideas for the future?

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Photo by India Water Portal licensed under Creative Commons

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