RHoK works by bringing together experts in development and volunteers with a broad set of skills in software development and design. The goal is to produce practical open source solutions to development problems.
The interface between domain experts and technical experts is the unique realm of Random Hacks of Kindness – bringing both sides of the conversation to the table. As RHoK has happened live around us, it has been fascinating to see what these events have in common and what uniquely characterized the local challenges.
Six project areas emerged in RHoK Philadelphia this weekend:
1. A platform to verify local ground weather data in Bolivia with NASA satellite data
2. A program to provide nearby sources of healthy food for low-income citizens in Philadelphia via SMS along with a ‘healthy living tip’ (PhillySNAP)
3. A usable, searchable interface to details of Philadelphia City Council legislation
4. A response to the Tor relay challenge (www.eff.org/torchallenge)
5. A site to match non-profit organizations to citizens looking to help or donate (Splash)
6. A search engine for data on local community hazards in Philadelphia
The diversity of these project topics was pleasantly surprising: climate change, food sources, government transparency, web anonymity, non-profit visibility, and environmental hazard awareness. It was also exciting to see projects that scoured everything from local Philadelphia zip codes to the huge amount of climatological data that NASA archives on a daily basis.
We are excited to see this commitment to local relevance happening in RHoK. The tech community here in Philadelphia is particularly civic-minded, which lines up with RHoK’s mission to make a serious social impact through technology.
“I think it’s interesting that it seems RHOK Philly had a much more local bent than most of the other locations. Philadelphia has this really vibrant, growing civic-oriented technology community. We find that the developers and designers who are here are here because they want to be, so there’s a great interest in making it a better place to live. The Philly tech scene has a big focus on making Philly a better place, but the inspiration, motivation and mission of RHOK is still there,” noted Christopher Wink, co-founder of Technically Philly, a site covering technology, startups, and venture capital in Philadelphia.
The partnership of Technically Philly (http://technicallyphilly.com/) and Drexel University brought developers and subject matter experts particularly aware of local needs and issues, as well as a number of entrepreneurs and ”idea-types” - while RHoK partners NASA and World Bank brought global data and concerns. The projects were created at the intersection of these values – and the tools developed should be transferable far beyond Philadelphia.
NASA has also long been aware of this vital global-local connection. Projects like NASA @ Home and City track the effects of space exploration into your daily life (http://www.nasa.gov/externalflash/nasacity/index2.htm). Many of these RHoK projects will start in daily life… and potentially could end up connected to exploration, or poverty, or open government. These tools reflect the shift in how we live, how our networked society works, and how citizens can engage the world around them to make it better.