Clean & Green Hackathon

The National Environment Agency (NEA) of Singapore was formed on 1 July 2002 as the leading public organisation responsible for improving and sustaining a clean and green environment in Singapore. The NEA aims to inculcate a strong environmental ownership among citizens and encourage them to adopt an environmentally-friendly lifestyle regardless of societal and economic differences. With this mandate, NEA became the pioneering public agency that formalised the 3P (People, Private, Public) partnership engagement framework and a 3P Network Division (3PND) was set up to operationalise the framework and strategy. The Division develops and spearheads environmental initiatives and programmes through partnerships with the 3P sectors and constantly explores innovative ways to effectively engage citizens and solicit feedback.

The 2013 Clean and Green Hackathon by the NEA In Singapore is a spectacular example of the Open Innovation concept. A 2014 International Innovations Awards finalist in the “Innovations in Citizen Engagement and Dialogue” category, the Hackathon provides a platform for different stakeholders to come together to collaborate and co-create environmental solutions with data provided by the NEA.
 
THE INNOVATION

 
Through the years, NEA has always been exploring innovative programmes to arouse public interest in environmental issues and inculcate a greater sense of ownership for the environment. NEA has developed various programmes to engage specific target audience. For instance, Operation MACE (Mosquito Annihilation & Control Enforcement) engages children aged 8 to 12 through interactive digital game play. By becoming the MACE agent and helping to destroy potential breeding spots, the children learn about dengue prevention tips and transfer this knowledge to their family and friends. The Eco Music Challenge was an online song-writing competition aimed at engaging talented and passionate individuals to express their appreciation and support for our beautiful environment through music.
 
In April 2013, NEA utilised the proven concept of hackathon and organised the first-ever public agency-led hackathon in Singapore. The concept originated in the Uited States and has become a popular tool for the crowdsourcing of ideas in the educational, public and private sectors. In Singapore, a hackathon was still considered a new concept.

The Clean & Green Hackathon, led by NEA, aims to collaboratively find solutions to environmental challenges faced in Singapore and co-create apps that will empower the public to play a role in safeguarding, nurturing and cherishing Singapore’s environment. The Hackathon also provided a platform for different stakeholders from a broad group of audiences – ranging from private companies to developers, environmental enthusiasts and the general public – to work together on solutions so that the plurality of interests could be addressed. Leveraging the strengths, interest and expertise of the different groups, innovative ideas and solutions are generated to empower citizens, improve our living environment and enhance our municipal services. The process employed during the hackathon brought participants through new perspectives of the environmental challenges, used data in new ways, and actively involved them in problem solving from a user- centric approach.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, addressing the participants on the last day of the Hackathon, in April 2013
(photo: Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, addressing the participants on the last day of the Hackathon, in April 2013) 

The inaugural Clean & Green Hackathon held in April 2013 involved 250 participants who generated 21 prototypes that provided solutions to environmental issues on public cleanliness, food hygiene, waste recycling and energy efficiency. In each team, there were three to five participants of varied background (developer, programmer, environmental advocates) to ideate and work on the prototype. The teams could also tap into the expertise and viewpoint of other team members to enhance their concept and prototypes. Although planned as an annual event, a second Hackathon was held in November 2013 in response to the strong interest and participation at the inaugural event. There were 200 participants in the second run, and 15 new application prototypes were developed. The engagement with the community continued beyond the Hackathons. From the first event, NEA worked with selected teams to further develop and refine their basic application prototypes into fully functional mobile applications. NEA also sought collaboration with industry partners in providing mentorship to help the teams improve and incubate their mobile applications until they were ready to be put up at the Google Play platform. In addition to the mentorship support, NEA offered funding assistance through its Call for Ideas Fund to help the teams jump-start their projects. Three prototypes from the inaugural Clean & Green Hackathon, namely Parent Pool, Clear It and SimpleFlyer, were developed and exhibited at the Clean & Green Singapore1 (CGS) Carnival in November 2013, and have been made available for download on the Google Play platform.

The overarching goal of the Clean & Green Hackathon was to seed the creation of a vibrant eco- system of idea generators where the community feels open and motivated to be an active change agent and proactively contribute innovative ideas and solutions for the betterment of our environment. The Clean & Green Hackathon offers the 3P (People, Public & Private) sectors a vibrant and creative platform to cooperate, and be actively involved in the development of environmental solutions. It also allows the NEA to tap into the strengths of each 3P sector, where:
  • the community and civil society contribute creativity, feedback and participation;
  • the government facilitates the ideation process and supplies the expert information, datasets and funding; and
  • the corporate sector provides the technology tools, technical expertise and market experience. 
Such active involvement across the different segments of society in generating solutions will help to ensure that the municipal services provided by the government correspond with the needs and expectations of the community. This, in turn would lead to deeper understanding between citizens and the government.
 
Other than enabling the community to work with different stakeholder groups on solutions to address environmental issues, the Clean & Green Hackathon also acts as a platform for the public to demonstrate their competency, technical know-how and creativity. It serves as a channel for the community to surface their ideas and suggestions to the government. Through this process of getting the community actively involved in generating solutions, we are able to forge better mutual understanding and bring the engagement between citizens and the government to a much deeper level. The Clean & Green Hackathon has been well received by the participants. The post event survey conducted on  the recently concluded Hackathon showed that the “Event Satisfaction and Impact Index” was 81%. 95% of respondents stated that they would attend the event again in the future, and 97% would recommend the event to their friends, colleagues and family members.

Participants of the inaugural Clean and Green Hackathon held in April 2013.
(photo: Participants of the inaugural Clean and Green Hackathon held in April 2013.)
 
EFFECTIVENESS 

Three mobile applications were developed as a result of the first Clean & Green Hackathon and have been made available for download at Google Play platform. To promote creativity beyond the Hackathon events, the ownership of the developed mobile apps lay with the developers, with NEA having limited control over further development. Attached are details of the mobile applications that were developed in the first Hackathon and have been made available to the public:
  • Clear It! This game app aims to bring across the message that everyone has a part to play in keeping Singapore clean. Players can participate in three different scenarios, based on the topics of anti-littering, toilet hygiene and tray return at food centres. Clear It! is a simple drag and drop game, that challenges players to clean up as much mess as possible within the time limit. They can then earn points, gain levels and unlock new achievements as they progress. The game aims to encourage players to take action and keep our living environment clean, through a fun and interactive manner. In addition, the game may be downloaded and used as educational materials to encourage a clean and litter-free environment to members of the public from other countries. This app is available for download at https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.teamcats.nea.clearit
  • Parent Pool This app enables parents in the same neighbourhood, with children attending the same schools, to form a community and make carpool arrangements. The Parent Pool app also provides useful information such as NEA weather data, and sends alerts to remind parents of carpooling arrangements. Overall, it aims to streamline car usage and reduce fuel consumption, which can lead to decreased air pollution and fewer resources used. Parent Pool could be expanded globally to include schools in other countries. It could also be further enhanced to provide car pool service for shopping, commuting to work etc. This app is available for download at https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=me.parentpool.ParentPool
  • SimpleFlyer Commercial establishments use large amounts of paper to print flyers for business publicity purposes (especially during trade shows). These flyers could also lead to a littering problem, if not binned properly. The SimpleFlyer app taps into the capabilities of smart phones and near-field communication (NFC) technology. It helps to reduce paper flyers, conserve resources and reduce waste.  It was developed by a group of polytechnic students and the app is currently being used within the institution. However, it has the potential to be used for large trade shows and commercial exhibitions, which traditionally use massive amounts of hard copy flyers. This app is available for download at https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=app.simpleflyer
These mobile applications were showcased at the 2013 CGS Carnival where teams presented their project to the event Guest- of-Honour, Prime Minister of Singapore, Mr Lee Hsien Loong. The NEA will continue to profile the apps and their developers when opportunities arise in the future so as to encourage more members of the community to work with the organisation. Currently, NEA is working with two other teams from the second Clean & Green Hackathon to explore the feasibility of developing their prototypes into fully working apps. Empowering the community to develop solutions that tackle environmental challenges will deliver enduring results as we are able to obtain better policy buy-in and reinforce environmental ownership.
 
The Clean & Green Hackathon also provided opportunity for NEA to reach out to more than 20 new partners in the Information Technology industry and commercial entities. Through identifying the right partners and tapping into partners’ strengths and networks, we were able to put together best of class technology tools, mentors and industry experience for the participants.
Some of our key partners and their contribution are listed as follows:
 
Samsung
  • Tapped into its developer group for participation
  • Provided mentorship and smart devices for participants to try out and test prototype
  • Supported a “Samsung Prize” to provide mentorship to further develop winning apps
  • Listed the winning apps in Samsung’s App Store 
Starhub
  • Tapped into its online community to market the Hackathon
  • Supported a “Samsung Prize” to provide mentorship to further develop winning apps 
Amazon Web Services
  • Hosted Data Sandbox
  • Provided training to participants 
Google Developers
  • Updated latest Google technology and developer tools
  • Provided speaker and mentorship
  • Tapped into its network of 1,500 developers for participation 
SAP
  • Provided the use of their business analytics
  • Provided training and mentorship 

LONG-TERM SIGNIFICANCE 

Historically, NEA data shared with the public have been aggregated, for example, a monthly average reading as opposed to a daily average one. Organising the Clean & Green Hackathon has opened the doors for NEA to release more granular datasets to the public. In the process, public officers have also become more open-minded and better prepared to sharing granular data with the public. This action communicated the government’s sincerity in wanting to work with the community to resolve issues, and that it was not just paying lip service to open data and open collaboration. As Mr Niko Tan, a participant at the second Clean & Green Hackathon, in his interview with Challenge Magazine (May/Jun 2014) summed up: “The government is not as distant as before. After the Hackathon, we managed to reach many public officers and developed our idea further. I now see the government more as a partner that offers citizens the opportunity to make a difference and create something for the community through hackathons”. The level of transparency and openness demonstrated through the sharing of granular datasets and the close partnership between public officers and the community have helped to build mutual trust and warmed the relationship between the public and government.

In addition to the opportunity to work with the People and Private sectors, hackathons also offer a platform for different public agencies to work together offering data that could be mashed up and used by participants to derive innovative ways to improve public service and foster closer public engagement. The Clean & Green Hackathon concept could also be replicated in another public agency by customising the problem statements or challenges to fit their theme. For example, the Health Promotion Board (HPB), Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) and the Energy Market Authority (EMA) of Singapore had organised the Health Up Hackathon, Data in the City Hackathon and the E3 Hackathon respectively, following the success of the Clean & Green Hackathon. NEA leveraged these hackathons by offering a Clean and Green Prize to encourage solutions on environmental challenges. The open innovation model of citizen engagement remains unchanged - where the community comes together to prototype and brainstorm ideas that generate innovative solutions using datasets provided by the organisers and partners.

Participants working on their projects
(photo: Participants working on their projects)

TRANSFERABLE LESSONS LEARNED

Through the Clean & Green Hackathon, we were able to spur innovation and form closer ties with the community. We also recognised that having good speakers and established industry partners were integral to the success of the Clean & Green Hackathon. The presence of good speakers helped to inspire and guide the developers in their prototyping, while having established industry partners meant that participating developers stand a chance to work with these reputable industry players. In addition, we also forged working partnerships with other public agencies at their hackathons to continuously engage the app developer community and businesses. This was achieved through collaborating closely with other public agencies such as providing datasets to their hackathon, sharing our success story, and offering a Clean & Green Challenge and Prize at their hackathon to encourage the creation of environmental mobile applications. Through such associations, we were able to amplify our engagement efforts and be constantly in touch with the community even if the hackathon was organised by other public agencies.
 
The Clean & Green Hackathon paved the way for a more stakeholder-centric way of engaging the community. The public were given a stake in the solution, and their opinions were heard. Through the diverse profile of the participants (50% were students and youth, and 50% were professionals), the Clean & Green Hackathon allowed diverse viewpoints and ideas to surface to the government. Citizens also felt inspired and empowered to take ownership of both the problems and possible solutions, as well as play an increasingly active role in generating solutions with the government facilitating the process. This will lead to a flourish of innovative ideas, a deeper understanding between citizens and the government, and stronger community ownership of the environment.

NOTES 

1 The Clean and Green Singapore (CGS) is a national iconic campaign and key environmental platform that aims to inspire Singaporeans to care for and protect our living environment by adopting an environmentally friendly lifestyle in the following areas:
  • Clean Environment - Providing the basic foundation for a clean and green lifestyle which reinforces public health and pollution issues.
  • City of Gardens & Water- Providing a visual and emotional connection between people and the environment.
  • Energy Efficiency and Resource Conservation - Emphasising the importance of environmental sustainability. 
The annual Clean and Green Hackathon is one of the key events under the CGS calendar.