Hackpad. Check.
Skype Group. Check.
Google Doc for participant contact information. Check.

One by one I begin configuring the communication tools that have proven invaluable when recruiting and retaining volunteers for the Pineapple Project, a personal interest originally developed for the April 2012 International Space Apps Challenge.  Just five months later the challenge is being prepped to be rerun for its 3rd hackathon along with sister project Grower’s Nation, conceived 5000 miles away in London.

Why Continue Hacking?

Because there is life after the Space Apps Challenge.   A highly complex, evolving life with dynamic needs demanding technologies, skillsets and solutions much bigger than one person and one codeathon.   Which is exciting.  And admittedly, at times incredibly frustrating, as we struggle to navigate data dead ends, the challenges (pun intended) of hacking across time zones and the naivety associated with attempting to solve a problem related to a pressing social issue in 48 hours. But we do it, again and again, and yet again.

Because the need for mass collaboration and big data to mitigate global food security concerns is real. And because we were inspired by Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK) and the Space Apps Challenge where we watched in amazement as Francisco & Hanna from Chile bought a domain and designed an outstanding user interface, supplemented by an Android App that “Los Tainos” of Santo Domingo poured their soul into as Dan, Venkat, and others from San Francisco managed solutions to be paired with an SMS capability all while a group of talented individuals from the MetOffice UK supported a common database and developed the Galactic Award winning Grower’s Nation solution.  It is the community that keeps us developing, and the possibility of getting one step closer to having a working prototype to address a rather impossible challenge in a single weekend.

However, robust solutions to complex issues like food security require expert insights and access to well-organized, accurate datasets.  Unfortunately finding these repositories has been the biggest obstacle we have encountered when designing apps contingent on large information banks such as those linking crop and climate variables.   For this reason, we are eager to participate this weekend in Hacking for Hunger.

Hacking for Hunger

As part of the Open Data Initiative and the U.S. Government’s broader commitment to food security, transparency, and innovation, USAID has launched the Food Security Open Data Challenge to convene food security stakeholders, data technologists, and other development enthusiasts to build innovative solutions for food security. The Challenge builds on a number of Administration priorities with a goal to develop new applications that use and build robust data relevant to food security, to demonstrate within and outside of government the potential of open data and social innovators in development, and to ensure that government serves as a platform for fomenting entrepreneurship.

The hackathon component of the challenge, Hacking for Hunger, will be kicked off Sept 14th by USAID Administrator Raj Shah and will provide a platform for participants to collaborate virtually to create new or to join existing teams to finalize solutions for an expert panel of judges.  The best projects (and presenters) will join USAID in Des Moines to speak at the Iowa Hunger Summit on World Hunger Day, October 16th 2012 and will be invited to participate in the week-long World Food Prize and Bourlag Dialogue events.  So far, six projects have been proposed for the challenge. You can learn more about the challenges, or start your own at http://idea.usaid.gov/opendata/challengequestion.

Why Participate?

Because as we learned from the International Space Challenge & RHoK; your code, your hacks and your solutions have the potential to facilitate a community of users & contributors that endure well beyond one codeathon.  And that’s pretty cool.

For more information about Hacking for Hunger or the Food Security Data Challenge, contact Kat Townsend at rtownsend@usaid.gov or register online

About Samantha

samantha.l.snabes@nasa.gov