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Our bi-annual Hack-and-Learn is a two-week online event designed to give data lovers and policy enthusiasts around the world a chance to work together on complex data issues in social outcomes projects. Encapsulating the mission of our INDIGO data collaborative – to improve the quality and accessibility of data through community building – the event attracted over 150 attendees in March and has been a catalyst for partnerships with prestigious organisations around the world.

With just two weeks to go until this summer’s edition, we’d like to understand a little more about how this hackathon works in practice and the why GO Lab launched the INDIGO initiative. We caught up with Hack and Learn coordinator and GO Lab Data Steward, Juliana Outes Velarde, and Senior Consultant at the Centre for Social Impact and Philanthropy (CSIP) at Ashoka University, Gautam Krishnamurthy, who will be leading two of the challenges in the next Hack and Learn.

First of all, what is INDIGO and why was it set up? 

Juliana: At the request of UK Government back in 2019, we launched our global impact bond dataset which was, and still is, the most comprehensive publicly accessible database for impact bonds. But this wasn't an easy job as data was fragmented and there was no unified standard in the outcomes-based contracting sector. What we really wanted was more collaboration. Collaboration between data users – be they researchers, policymakers, or practitioners – helps us to ensure the data we collate is accessible and helpful to all. That’s why, in 2020, we started to host the International Network for Data on Impact and Government Outcomes (INDIGO), which is a community of researchers and practitioners with an interest in using and sharing better data for better social outcomes. The initiative works at three different levels:

  • We offer various open datasets that the community can access for research or simply to understand the current state of outcomes-based contracts.
  • To keep our data up to date, we have a system for sharing information, including data definitions and open-source code for our database and data visualisations.
  • We work as a data collaborative and rely on our INDIGO community to share data with us about their projects. We also have quarterly peer learning sessions and bi-annual Hack and Learn events where we meet and learn from each other.

What have been some of the main challenges in developing the INDIGO initiative?  

Juliana: I would say that our biggest challenge is the lack of data standards in the sector. Many organisations are keen on sharing data with the INDIGO community, but they present their data in very different ways. In addition, there is no general agreement about data ownership. Many organisations express an interest in sharing their data, but are unsure about who actually owns the datasets once the data is collected. Is it the outcome payer? Is it the investor? Is it the service provider? That’s why we are constantly striving to create common standards. But despite these challenges, our INDIGO journey has been full of exciting moments, such as our launch of the first report on data transparency in the social outcomes sector with Big Issue Invest and our increasingly popular Hack and Learn event.

Could you tell us what exactly a Hack and Learn is? 

Gautam: While there are many hackathons, the emphasis on learning is what makes the INDIGO Hack and Learn event particularly special. At its most basic level, it is for data enthusiasts to network with other data enthusiasts and to collaboratively pitch in towards solving a particular problem statement. Anybody interested can participate and contribute to solving a pressing issue of the social sector. Last year for example – one team managed to create stunning, detailed visualisations of foreign philanthropy inflows to India, and another made a significant improvement to the veracity of the ecosystem network database. All this was possible only due to the diverse experience brought in by team members across the world. I am truly excited about the upcoming edition of Hack and Learn.

Juliana: As Gautam rightly points out, our Hack and Learn is a learning event. This summer, we will first invite participants for a kick off session on 23 August to present them with a list of exciting challenges. Each team, headed by a challenge leader (either from GO Lab, Ashoka University or INSPER), will then work together for two weeks to address the challenge and use their diverse skillset to learn from each other. We'll then reconvene at the Social Outcomes Conference on 9 September for a Show and Tell session, where participants will have a chance to share their outputs and hear feedback from expert practitioners working on similar existing challenges in the sector. As we truly believe that this event produces valuable lessons, we then write a Technical and Learning report, documenting some the personal stories of our participants. You can find the report of our March 2021 Hack and Learn here.

This event is at the core of our community. Working with a diverse network of students, professors, practitioners and data scientists, we seek to identify which key topics the community is interested in and how INDIGO can address them.

What are you most excited about for this summer’s edition? 

Gautam: This summer, CSIP are hosting two challenges. We’ll be calling on participants to help standardise the Corporate Social Responsibility Dataset and to analyse the sub-sector impact of Covid-19 on India's NGOs. Both of these exercises offer great opportunities for students wishing to get into the data analysis domain and will directly help the Indian non-profit ecosystem by providing actionable insights and creating datasets for data enthusiasts worldwide. As a co-host, we are thrilled to be part of this global data collaborative which allows us to help nurture data enthusiasts for the future.

Juliana: The CSIP has some very exciting challenges indeed. On our side, one of our challenges will involve using a set of variables and data definitions that we built at our last Hack and Learn to massively expand data on upcoming outcomes-based projects. The INSPER team have also prepared some really exciting challenges. I recommend having a browse of the complete list here. Our team and this summer’s challenge leaders have been working hard over the last few weeks to ensure the Hack and Learn experience is as exciting and fruitful as possible. We can’t wait to meet this summer’s participants!

We’d like to thank our partners Georgetown University’s Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation, University of Cape Town’s Bertha Centre, Ashoka University’s Centre for Social Impact & Philanthropy and INSPER, who have worked with us throughout 2021 to build the vibrant international community we have today.