Hackathons, if you’re not familiar with them, are short, focused events where coders, makers and innovators of all kinds come together to create solutions around a given problem or challenge. In this case, they are a great way for those of us far removed from the Ebola virus outbreak in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone to imagine ways of contributing to the ongoing response.
We declined this request because we’re too far removed from the emergency response at this point to be able to provide anything but the most basic of context. We sent them this article on Tech Crunch, “How the Tech Sector Can Help Stop Ebola,” and told them to read every story that Buzzfeed’s Jina Moore has filed from Liberia.
But we reached out to a few of our friends in Monrovia to see if they’d be keen to contribute. “How many Ebola hackathons are there?” one asked. We wondered too.
A quick Google search lead to 10 Ebola hackathons that had happened or were planned for the imminent future, and we started to get curious. Were these groups aware of and coordinating with each other? Were they sharing valuable resources from the field, so that people on the ground weren’t besieged with constant requests for videos and other material?
Two weeks ago, we cataloged the list and wrote to each and every one of them. We sent them this:
"We are a West Africa-based technology company that works in countries now facing the Ebola virus outbreak. We are working on mobile behavior change communications and other responses, and in the last few weeks we have been approached by different ‘Ebola Hackathons’ and asked to share information about context and challenges.
"After consultation with our colleagues who are working directly on the Ebola response in the field, we learned that many of us have been approached by many different Hackathons, and as a group we wondered if the Hackathons were sharing information with each other, both in terms of information they were getting from the field and in terms of outcomes.
"So, at Code, since we’re not as busy as our colleagues who are in Monrovia right now, we thought we’d ask on behalf of our colleagues and friends. And, to make things easier on everyone, we thought we’d create a place where different Ebola Hackathons can learn about other Ebola Hackathons and post outcomes of their work. Even better, maybe some of the groups will find others interested by the same outcomes and start to work together, making their efforts that much more effective and likely to impact the situation on the ground.
"Please feel free to create yourself a worksheet and add outcomes, contact details, and whatever else you would like to share about the process. We will be sharing this document with our colleagues in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.
"Thanks in advance for the collaboration and cooperation."
Two weeks ago, we got a handful of replies. “We’ll use the spreadsheet — great idea!” one group responded. Another asked us if we could make them a video and we told them to ask other Hackathons for materials they could share and use.
Since then, not one of the hackathons have posted in the spreadsheet. No one has posted materials to share amongst the group. No one has shared outcomes or listed a point of contact where other hackathon hosts — or people wanting to support and work on solutions together — can learn more.
I don’t know what to tell myself about why this is. I work in international development and I’ve lived in Liberia. I care intensely about the place and am deeply proud of my friends and colleagues who are working on the response. I know they’ve been inundated with “please send our hackathon a video” requests, and I know from experience that many of them wanted to respond. Unfortunately, whatever responses were offered to these different events have not been shared in the way that we in the open source community like to see.
I’m sharing this here in a hope that other Hackathons take the document and use it to coordinate amongst themselves—or replace it with a collaborative environment of their own creation that we can promote on their behalf. I don’t see the ones on the list paying any attention to the basic tenants of collaborative cooperation and open source. But here’s hoping this changes their minds and that we can actually work together — instead of just saying we are.
Here is our open Ebola Hackathon Index: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1K1E-82Fy5k9jbI_2FfRnIDjK7knUqXvM6s53TvMbTn0/edit#gid=0