The University of Massachusetts Amherst

DACSS & TSIC Data for Social Good Hackathon a Success

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

This September, in a unique collaboration with a Government group in India, the Data Analytics and Computational Social Science (DACSS) program co-hosted the Data for Social Good Hackathon - 2021.  Working closely with the Telangana State Innovation Cell (TSIC), Government of Telangana, India, DACSS masters student Krishna Chaitanya Rao Kathala created the vision, planned for, and brought to life this cross-continental online event.  The Hackathon garnered over 2000 applicants across 26 states in India, with the large majority coming from the host state of Telangana. Of  those, 121 teams were invited to participate in the event, and at the end of the challenge, 11 winning teams were chosen by a panel of judges based on rubrics created specifically to identify the best submissions.  Participating teams had only 3 days - September 28 to October 1  - to complete their work.

The hackathon’s aim, according to  Kathala, was “to leverage the power of data analytics for social good by deploying vast data resources to help generate evidence-based insights, interpretations, and conclusions that could further data-driven recommendations to Civil Societies, NGOs, governments, and complement sustainable development.”  

In general, “hackathons” have become a popular way to challenge students by presenting them with a large data set and a prompt asking them to develop a policy recommendation based on their analysis and visualizations of the data.  This event was an outlet for undergraduate pre-final and final year  level students in India who are both interested in the fields of data analytics and computational social science, and focused on building innovations. It specifically attracted individuals from various STEM backgrounds to come together to be challenged, taking their range of skills and expertise, and applying it to recommend solutions to real, current issues in India.

While the field of data analytics has largely been perceived as a medium for business-driven decisions, this hackathon aimed to inculcate and sensitize young minds to using data for social good..

Applicants were asked to focus on four different Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), consisting of: Zero Hunger, Good Health & Well-Being, Clean Water & Sanitation, and Climate Action. In addition, there was a wildcard option, whereby applicants were encouraged to find their own dataset, or use one of the provided datasets in a different way to solve a different problem. The majority of participants opted to work on solutions for Good Health & Well-Being, followed by Climate Action, Clean Water & Sanitation and lastly, Zero Hunger, with very few opting to work on the wildcard option. 

Ray La Raja, Associate Dean for Program Innovation, College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, and Meredith Rolfe, DACSS Program Director, both participated in the opening ceremony of the hackathon, speaking about the DACSS program as well as the importance of using data for social good in general.

The DACSS program also played a critical role in the Data for Social Good Hackathon - 2021 by providing a series of on-demand lectures totaling several hours, which could be accessed by participants both before and during the hackathon and were incredibly well received, according to a post-event survey. Other partners in India provided real-time training opportunities throughout the course of the event. 

At the conclusion of the hackathon, Rolfe served on the panel of judges that evaluated the submissions based on a predetermined scoring rubric, ultimately narrowing the top 21 submissions down to the winning 11.  These 11 projects will be featured on the DACSS Research Website and at the DACSS Research Symposium on November 4. The top 11 winners were also provided with an opportunity to exhibit their findings to the relevant Telangana State government departments and help them formulate decisions and policies.

Rolfe said of the submissions, “I was impressed by the quality of work put forth by all the teams at the Data for Social Good Hackathon-21. Teams found unique and thoughtful ways to use data to study Sustainable Development goals. It was exciting to see how much the teams were able to accomplish in such a short time – a great testament to the emergence of Telangana’s Innovation ecosystem.”

Following the event, Raja said “we’re thrilled to have worked with such esteemed partners in the Government of Telanagna,  and we look forward to future projects working alongside them.”  Similarly, Rolfe said “Dr. Shanta (CIO of the Government of Telangana, India) is doing excellent work driving the social innovation ecosystem system in Telangana. We look forward to continuing working with the Telangana State Innovation Cell, Government of Telangana.”

Participant response to the post-event survey echoed this sentiment: “This is the best hackathon ever that I have attended. Right from the day 1 workshop by DACSS to the platform session by SmartInternz...I learned a lot. Looking forward to more events from TSIC & DACSS.”