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Montek, Pitroda kick off Planning Commission hackathon to bridge communication gaps

The Planning Commission and the National Innovation Council on Saturday kicked off a two-day Hackathon, the first of its kind in India, on the 12th Five Year Plan at 10 centres across India.

Nandagopal Rajan & Kaavya Chandrasekaran        Last Updated: April 6, 2013  | 15:38 IST

The Planning Commission and the National Innovation Council on Saturday kicked off a two-day Hackathon, the first of its kind in India, on the 12th Five Year Plan at 10 centres across India.

The commission expects coders, developers, filmmakers, graphic specialists, and others to use the opportunity to create videos, infographics and applications that will bring out the best in the Plan, which runs from 2012 to 2017.

The best entry in the visualization category stands to win Rs 15,000, while for apps and short films the top prize is Rs 25,000 each. These prizes will be given separately in all of the 10 locations. Winners of the online contest will also be rewarded similarly.

Over 1,900 participants have registered for the event and will submit their entries by 12 noon on Sunday after which they will give presentations explaining their creations.

While the move comes across as an attempt by the Planning Commission to crowd source the best way to communicate with citizens, it is also connecting with the youth to gauge the depth of talent available in the country. Addressing participants gathered at 10 centres over a webcast, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Public Information Infrastructure & Innovations, Sam Pitroda, conceded that the government was not very good at communicating, even within its departments. He hoped exercises such as Saturday's hackathon would change that and help identity new talent.

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Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia also addressed participants and answered queries. One of the questions posed to Ahluwalia from a participant at IIT Kharagpur was why the government was not thinking in terms of crowd sourcing planning itself, instead of just ways to communicate it better.

Even other participants suggested that there was a need to get in ideas from the masses into the system. At the Delhi University South Campus, Safiyat Reza and Monis Javed from Jamia Millia Islamia's Faculty of Engineering and Technology were gathering thoughts on what application they would create. They were clear that they wanted to make something that would present the government's thoughts in a better way to the people and take the latter's ideas and suggestions to the top.

The Commission has released data sets for the participants to use for the contest. They will also be able to tap into other credible data sources. Most of them appeared confused on which sector to choose from and were waiting for the presentations from experts later in the day to take a final call. They would be able to seek suggestions and discuss ideas over sector-specific Facebook pages over the duration of the contest.

Despite this social media push, Rohan Jha of New Delhi's St Stephen's College felt the Planning Commission was way behind on technology and it would take it ages to lock step with change in that area. His teammate Abhimanyu Bharadwaj said the event had not been publicised much and hoped the scope of the contest would increase in the coming years to include more centres. Participants can also submit online entries without physically being in any of the centres, but those entries will not be judged on Sunday.

For the organisers as well as the participants of the hackathon the idea is definitely to bridge the gaps that exist across the system. We will have to wait till Sunday to see if either of the sides are able to achieve the goals.

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