More support needed in open data competitions

There is still an evident demand for open data competitions according to a survey conducted in the open data community. The most wanted prizes are money and partnerships and the organisers of the competitions are asked for more support and commitment, especially after the competition.

Apps4Finland in 2013. Photo: Olli-Pekka Orpo.

The six largest cities in Finland pondered whether there is still a demand and need for open data application competitions or similar events. An open survey was conducted during March 2018 in Finnish and English to support this reasoning. The objective of the survey was to find out, for example, what type of competitions are wanted, what attracts participants and what kind of support is needed from the organisers.

The number of answers was 26 in total. The survey participants formed a very diverse group: students, entrepreneurs, data openers and public administration employees. A majority of the respondents had sometimes participated in an open data competition. 24 of the participants found that there is a need for different kinds of competitions.

The most liked idea was an entirely open competition, which lasts a couple of months and has no pre-set challenges. The second most voted idea was a micro trial with the funding paid in advance, similar to Datademo that was arranged a couple of years ago. The most enticing prizes were money and partnerships. Extent-wise, the most supported format was a regional or national competition, or a combination of the two. A hackathon, where experts in different fields meet, was also deemed interesting.

Everyone is not unequivocally in favour of the competitions – or there have been bad experiences from previous competitions. In the critical comments, the respondents emphasised the need for a longer-term activity in open data, and not so much the short competitions, after which the organisers’ interest towards the entries ends:

“”Thus far, nothing useful has been produced out of these, or at least the jury has not managed to pick truly beneficial productions as the winners. Ideologies are emphasised before the nuts and bolts.”

“Ok, hackathons can play a role, but their effects are short lived. So while they can be good, there needs to be a foundation of long term efforts, that the short term effects of hackathons rest upon. “

“We need challenges from such parties that are truly a) interested in and b) capable of furthering good, beneficial ideas and applications. If these criteria are not met, then the competition / hackathon is a waste of the participants’ time.”

DataBusiness Challenge in 2017. Photo: Mediaporras Oy.

Need for support after the competition

A majority of the replies showed a need and wish to receive support both during, and especially after the competition. The respondents demanded support for the financing of the competition entry, the productisation and marketing and the search for partnerships. Organisers were asked to commit to the continued development, support the best ideas and maintain the offered technologies, such as interfaces, after the competition as well. One respondent wished for a small competition initially and funding for the continued development of the best ideas after that:

“there’s no point in expecting big productions if there is no funding. light start + possibly small funding for a light prototype in different stages could work better.”

Another thing asked for was the financial commitment to the competition entries, so that the entries are not put into operation in a way which leaves all the costs for development and possible maintenance to the participants:

“competitions and hackathons are good ways to produce new ideas and give them visibility. It just has to be ensured that the administration is not participating mainly as a freeloader.”

One respondent wanted more regular meetings on the topic of open data. Monthly Helsinki Loves Developers developer meetings have already been arranged to cover this need. Another respondent proposed the Code for All model for Finland. For example in Germany, there is >Code for Germany, which provides a platform for the arranging of meetings at least once a month at about 30 Code Labs:

“Supporting projects to take off, is the Prototype Fund, that supports the development of accepted projects, for six months (with max 35k euro funding per project). Check prototypefund.de. They have a different project call every four months, with a different theme.”

The most surprising thing about the survey was the need for support after the competition and the organisers’ commitment to the competition entries, in one way or another. These needs were highlighted in almost every answer. Hackathons are perhaps better than traditional competitions at providing support and commit organisers stronger to the competition entries and the continued development of them, but apparently there is room for improvement.

We are wondering whether there is still a need for a proper competition, or maybe some other model for collaboration or procurement. We will continue the discussions and planning both with city employees and external parties.

The open data people of the six largest cities in Finland want to thank all those who responded to the survey! We will use the results of the survey as a foundation for the planning of open data events and possible competitions. You can still participate in the discussion on competitions and events, for example on the HRI website. You can also send us your thoughts by e-mail at: hri (at) hel.fi.

Translation: Henrik Andersson