On the weekend of August 24th-25th, Canada hosted its first “Hackathon for International Development.” The event, which was sponsored by Citizen Attaché and funded by Engineers Without Borders Canada, brought together nearly 40 Canadians gathered in Ottawa to create beneficial products, insights, and examination of Canada’s international aid statistics.
After two days of writing code, crunching data, and obscene amounts of caffeine, the participants, who consisted of technologists, data analysts, and international experts, successfully created online tools to ameliorate the nation’s foreign aid spending and distribute it more efficiently. Hackathon organizer Ian Froude said the Canadian government and Canadian NGOs possess a wealth of data about the funds that are send to humanitarian aid causes, but this data is usually not user-friendly.
“We’re translating all this mess of information that’s in a giant spread sheets [sic]into something has value and provides insight into international development, and ideally increases the effectiveness of how we provide international aid,” Froude told the Ottawa Citizen.
During a Hackathon, computer programmers and software developers team up to produce data analysis software for groups of information. The Canadian Hackathon for International Development added development workers to the software producing mix, thus complementing the necessity for in-depth technical expertise and knowledge of international development projects.
The blend of technical prowess and humanitarian resulted in the creation of two apps that will help to organize Canadian aid data. The first is a “power open data hub” that aggregates data from the main sources of aid funds such as the World Bank and the Canadian International Development Agency.
The second app shows the concentration of investment; put in other words, the “geography of aid money.” With this app, international development workers can look at a map where the data is displayed and determine which areas of the world are receiving more aid than others, which will help to spread out aid funds more efficiently. Researchers and government agencies will also be able to use this program to see which areas of the world have been overlooked as far as humanitarian aid funding from Canada.
The programs designed during the Hackathon are available on the Internet through an open-data portal hosted by the North-South Institute. Once the apps have been finalized and solidified, the institute will sponsor outreach activities to let government agencies, universities, and NGOs know about the new apps.
As far as the next step in improving Canadian humanitarian aid data control, Froude says it should be mandating all NGOs who receive federal funding to report their expenditures in the transparent and analytical format that these new tools provide, as it is done in the UK. Once they do this, people who are interested will be able to track the movement of taxpayers’ money through NGOs.