Research to Impact Hackathon

By Leo Mutuku
iHub Research
  Published 30 Jan 2013
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After months, or sometimes years of very intensive studies, researchers produce long reports laden with jargon, which are often times published in exclusive academic journals only. Given the high cost of access to such publications, the practitioner on the ground that needs this information most is unable to use and practice findings from these research studies. To this end, many public institutions and research organizations have opened up access to their data and research publications in open data portals. Good examples of such portals include ELDIS and R4D, which curate massive amounts of data and research publications on various economic sectors and regions of the world. However, it has been observed that such portals do not necessarily address the difficulty in deriving useful information from research work and these portals are hardly used. This past week iHub Research hosted an open data agriculture and nutrition hack workshop dubbed “Research to Impact”. Hackathons tend to produce thousands of lines of code, most of which go to waste when not scaled into full-fledged usable solutions. However, driven in a focused manner, this is a useful methodology for rapid prototyping and problem solving of pre-defined challenges.

Research to Impact Hackathon, sponsored by IDS (ELDIS)andCABI (R4D- DFID) was different in that it went beyond standard hackathons and was conducted in two parts - a problem definition workshop and the actual hackathon - over a four-day period. The underlying objective of the hackathon was to make open access research and open data from portals such as ELDIS, R4D and more accessible and user friendly and contribute towards direct impact on the local agricultural and nutritional sector. The hackathon brought together local issue experts on agriculture and nutrition who established and sketched out different personas in the agricultural value chain- farmers; input suppliers; transporters; extension workers; researchers; markets; policy makers/legal environment.

Once these personas were defined, these issue experts identified various challenges facing each of the personas when it comes to accessing agricultural related research work and information to improve their daily work and practices. These challenges would then be presented to developers to ideate around and hack for possible technology solutions. The developers had an opportunity to speed date with the agriculture experts to fully understand their personas and the challenges in order to make solutions that would have the most impact.

Two days of the hack workshop were spent ideating and building simple prototypes that could repackage open research data into useable formats. On the final day of the hack workshop, the developers presented these applications below to a panel of judges:
  1. LD Connect: An application that pushes research information via newsfeeds and provides recommendations on useful research articles based on notes from other researchers and shares.
  2. Mobi-Culture: An application that provides extension workers with FAQs and research information to share with farmers, and collects information of farmers for future follow up.
  3. Agroportal: Web portal with offline caching abilities to enable researchers search, filter and rate research publications and articles
  4. Knowtoext: Provides information to extension workers, which can be passed on to farmers based on several queries to a database of articles and publications. This application also collects additional information of farmers in order to provide useful information of agricultural suppliers in the area.
  5. Mobi-dev: An application that repackages information from infomediaries into an interface for extension workers who can then send out news blasts to farmers based on this information. This application links farmers to infomediaries and researchers through the extension officer.
  6. Resport: An online portal that integrates research publications with news articles and can be used as a tool to track citations of reports as well as to verify news articles before publications.
It proved a tough decision for the judges to establish the winning application but in the end, Mobi-dev emerged the winners, having presented one of the most viable solutions and with potential for the largest impact on the local agricultural value chain. The top team walked away with a top cash prize of USD 1000 while the runners up received USD 500 and USD 250 each. The sponsors, IDS and CABI are now planning for the next stage, which is to support the most viable of these applications to full development and successfully deploy them in the community. You can read more about this exciting hack workshop here and here.  
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