Hacking with climate data

During UNDP CIRDA support missions and interactions with the National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHS) in the 11 CIRDA countries, a number of challenges kept cropping up. How do you turn raw data into information? How do you engage with potential users of your information? How do you reach your target communities? These are important issues to address, but they require skills that most NMHS's do not possess.

That's where the idea for a hackathon originated. Let's get a group of talented developers together, preferably at a fantastic location, provide them with the type of data most NMHS's will have, and present them with these challenges. Put them together in a room, and see what they come up with.

At least, that's the idea... The reality isn't quite as straightforward. In the limited time available for the Climate Action Hackathon, participants will have to form teams, get to know each other (and each other's skills), define the idea they will be working on and produce a prototype that can be presented to an audience of NMHS's. Each of these steps presents a number of potential pitfalls for the hackathon.

To prevent a major disappointment for all those involved, we were lucky enough to get in touch with the Brown Institute for Media Innovation. The Brown Institute works on the crossroads of technology and storytelling, and has a lot of experience in turning expert data into user information. Plus, they have lots of experience in organizing hackathons.

With a group of 24 developers present in Livingstone, Zambia, each with great ideas for their (own) hackathon project, there was a risk that cooperation would be minimal. By forming teams with three to six members, each with different skills, the potential for quality projects is much higher. Thanks to the Brown Institute's experience, teams were formed in record time, and the last of the teams' mission statements was finalized just before 11 o'clock at night, ready for the first day of hacking.

Throughout the hackathon, the teams were able to interact with experts present at the CIRDA Last Mile conference. These experts came from range of backgrounds, from data providers, the development community and practitioners to members of the CIRDA partner countries' NMHS's. This has helped the participants to refine their ideas, overcome any challenges with data access and profit from lessons learned on sustainability, delivery methods and user needs.

The outcomes of the hackathon will be presented on the last day of the Climate Action Hackathon, so we'll have to hold our judgement on the CAH until then. But so far the teamwork is great, the ideas the teams are working on are fantastic (and realistic!), and we've got 24 talented developers working on real problems that NMHS's in Africa are faced with. That alone makes the Climate Action Hackathon already a success for us. And a big thanks to the Brown Institute for Media Innovation for making this possible!