U.S.-Russia Computer Marathon Empowers Citizens To Improve Government Transparency

Posted by John Beyrle
September 16, 2011
Students Log On To New Laptop Computers

One of the great things about the “reset” in U.S.-Russia relationship is how it opens the door to new and unexpected kinds of cooperation. A perfect example of this is an event coming up next week. On September 24, volunteers from several high tech companies, including Yandex and Google, together with the Skolkovo Foundation, are coming together under the framework of the Obama-Medvedev Commission to put on the first ever U.S.-Russian “codeathon”, a 36-hour computer programming marathon called Code4Country.

The idea is to harness the talents of programmers and the ideas of citizens in both countries to address an issue which is critical to us all -- improving government transparency and openness. Ultimately, Code4Country should produce technological tools that empower ordinary citizens in both the U.S. and Russia to improve their communities. One example of a problem and a proposed solution is a Regional Government Evaluation application -- a tool that would allow citizens to rate the efficiency and transparency of regional and state government services, agencies, even governors. What makes this event even more unique is that it will be held simultaneously in two locations -- Moscow and Washington, D.C., and will provide an opportunity for the citizens of Russia and the United States to play a part in improving government transparency and accountability in both countries.

The organizers have set up a bilingual website where programmers can register for the marathon. Others can participate in the event as well, by defining problems that coders will attempt to solve. The site has an interactive section called a wiki page where you can read and discuss some of the problem definitions that have already been submitted. Anyone can register to use the wiki page and offer their own problem definition and proposed solution. I encourage everyone -- whether you are a computer programmer or an average citizen, in Russia or in the United States -- to take part and define a problem that you think may be addressed at least in part by information technology. The more people get involved, the better we'll be able to identify the most important problems, and the more likely we will be able to find innovative solutions.

Editor's Note: This entry also appears on Beyrle's Journal.

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