The ResilientAfrica Network (RAN) in collaboration with the AidData Center for Development Policy (AidData-USA) co-organized the ‘Fourth annual GIS Hackathon’, which took place on Friday, July 28, 2017 at the RAN Eastern Africa Resilience Innovation Lab (RAN EA RILab) in Kololo, Kampala Uganda. The theme and challenge for this year’s Hackathon, “Hack4TheCity” was based on Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 11, which seeks to make cities and human settlements more inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

Participants in their teams, were expected to compete in rapid ideation and prototyping of web and/or mobile applications, web maps, GIS apps, or static maps to address the challenge at hand.

Seven multidisciplinary teams comprised of 5 individuals were shortlisted from a pool of 40 applications to compete in the hackathon. The day started in a cold and tense atmosphere as participants arrived and teamed up accordingly. The event was graced by the RAN EA RILab Director, Mr. Nathan Tumuhamye, who opened the hackathon and expounded on RAN’s initiatives in four regions of Africa (including West Africa, Horn of Africa, Southern Africa and Eastern Africa) designed to solve the most pressing problems indigenous to each of the regions. He recognized the strong partnership RAN has with AidData-USA that begun as a result of their common inclusion in the Higher Education Solutions Network (HESN) under  USAID’s Global Development Lab. “Over the years, RAN and AidDataa have managed to inspire creation and incubation of creative solutions to some of Africa’s long standing challenges,” Nathan shared. He further encouraged the participants to carry their ideas on beyond the hackathon because such ideas have the potential to contribute to the achievement of resilient communities.

Natasha Kassami (RAN’s Engagement and Research officer) and Katherine Whitton (an AidData Summer Fellow) introduced the event and offered the participants some key tips for a successful hack. They stressed key points including ‘team work, time tracking and taking important health breaks for greater efficiency.’

Their remarks were followed by a presentation by Engineer Jacob Byamukama, theDeputy Director Roads Management at Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) that gave insight into some of the widely spread problems in the city. Eng. Byamukama presented on the transport challenges in Kampala, specifically highlighting the challenge of congestion of the roads. “The traffic light signals are not properly coordinated, for example the ones at the Kitgum house junction are not synchronized with the nearby round about at Centenary Park yet this is at the business center where even the population is high. This among others is why  we see a lot of congestion around that place,” Eng. Byamukama highlighted. He then challenged the hackers to see if they could find a technological solution to traffic management and control. He presented other traffic problems such as bad driving behavior, car accidents and car failures on the roads which usually cause traffic.

Eng. Byamukama further shared about the challenge of open manholes in the city, highlighting that ‘there are over 5,000 of these across the city.’

“In future, we want to be able to maintain the infrastructure we put up. To do this we need a way to be able to get information on these faults immediately so that we can more meaningfully use that information,” he further explained. He added that they also need a way to identify parking spaces, and which ones are free so as to prevent bad parking on the roads. In conclusion, Eng. Byamukama introduced KCCA’s vision for Kampala’s transport infrastructure and urban spaces, emphasizing that they want to ‘reduce traffic jam and increase pedestrians’ safety, as well as establish a beautiful city.’ He also talked about the Multi-model urban transport master planwhich he leads with an objective to improve the transport system in Kampala but taking into consideration the whole of greater Kampala (Kampala metropolitan area).

With inspiration and insights into the city’s key challenges, intense hacking followed and this took the rest of the day, as the hackers used the RAN space and readily available prototyping materials to develop solutions to these pertinent problems. An added advantage was the availability of experts in GIS from AidData-USA and mentors who supported the teams in improving their creations.

At exactly 5:00pm EAT, hackers put their materials down to pitch their ideas to a panel of four judges. Among the judges were: Mr. Bernard Justs Muhwezi- The Geo-Information Services Division Manager at the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS), Mr.  Ivan Okori– the Chief Product Officer of ThinVoid Ltd (A ‘disruptive technology company employing cutting edge solutions based on global standards while having a critical understanding of our local environment, markets and tech-space.’), Mr. Pius Kavuma- An expert on GIS mapping and Mr.Rushongoka Wa-Mpiira- The Co-founder and Managing Fellow of the Open Sustainability Institute(OSI). The team of judges heard from and posed questions to each of the seven teams. After a transparent round of deliberations, 3 teams were announced as winners of the cash prizes of $250, $150 and $100, respectively. These teams included;

  • Team Tag-It, which developed a mobile application with a map that allows users to simply tap a location and report manholes or other faults on the streets of Kampala.
  • Team Youth Mappers, who created a map with an algorithm that determines a short and quick path for garbage trucks to easily reach solid waste collection points.
  • Team Fire Solutions Kampala (fsk), who created a GIS map recording locations of different fires in Kampala with important notes such as their characteristics for predictive analysis; and a community fire alarm that alerts the community on a fire in the neighborhood so they can help but also remain secure.

We look forward to seeing these ideas come to fruition and to support them in becoming tangible solutions to our city’s most pertinent challenges.

Thank you Tony Muwonge, Makerere University Environmental Health Student and RAN Intern 2017 cohort for initiating this story.