There have been hints that the Indian government has been taking ideas out of the startup playbook. It has been awarding cash prizes to the users of the BHIM app as a growth hack, and Swayam, its digital education platform uses gamification and quizzes to increase user involvement. And now it’s taken on the tried and tested methods of getting developers to come up with an idea – a hackathon.
And it’s no ordinary hackathon. The Modi government will be conducting the Smart India Hackathon simultaneously across 26 locations in India, and as many as 10,000 programmers will be participating. This will make it the largest hackathon ever, with the previous record being held by the HackingEDU hackathon on California, which had attracted 6,000 participants. The event began at 8 am today, and will continue for a straight 36 hours. Prime Minister Modi will be addressing the its participants at 10 pm.
Appropriately for a government initiative, the hackathon will focus on solving problems of social importance. Twenty nine government departments had identified as many as 598 problems that the teams will attempt to solve. These range from finding solution to urban India’s problems (Designing a Solution that Shuts down street Lights during the Day) to rural India’s worries (Designing an App to connect Farmers with Retailers of Farm Producers). The hackathon also seems to want to help streamline government processes, with one problem statement seeking a solution to stop public mail access from government computers. Certain problems will require high-tech solutions, such as the statements on how to build security around data transfer from/into a pen drive.
And participants are currently engrossed at finding solutions to these problems. Programmers from as any as 28 states are participating in teams of six, and the hackathon locations are as geographically spread as Mumbai, Bangalore and Guwahati. The end products will then be evaluated by judges from the respective ministry and industry experts, and the top three teams with the best solutions will be awarded Rs. 1 lakh, Rs. 75,000 and Rs. 50,000 respectively.
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The hackathon is a part of the government’s digital India push, which aims to use India’s digital resources to find solutions to its many problems. India has a thriving IT industry, but still trails the world when it comes to innovation. While Indians write a lot of code, they only produce 9 patents per million people; China, in comparison, produces 519, and the US produces 910 patents per million.
Most of India’s digital talent is currently working at helping multinational companies grow their profits, and doing a good job at it; with this hackathon, the government seems to be hoping that they’ll be using their skills to find solutions to problems faced by their own countrymen.