NEWS // March 15, 2017

Big Data Hackathon Creates Solutions for Public Health

Article submitted by Alpita Masurkar with San Diego State University

Ever felt that you had this awesome idea that would help a lot of people if only you could have the team and collective expertise to turn it into an application or a project?

The second Big Data Hackathon for San Diego organized at San Diego State University provided the platform and resources needed for students and collaborators from varied disciplines to come together and develop projects that will benefit the San Diego community.

On February 18, 25 and 26, collaborators from SDSU, University of California San Diego, Texas A&M University, Oregon State University and local high schools joined together to help develop solutions for local public health issues during the Hackathon.

The theme for the hackathon was Public Health and 18 unique, exciting ideas for public health projects for the San Diego community emerged from this event. Ideas ranged from individual health-related concerns such as heart disease, developmental disorders and mental health issues to those targeting specific community needs such as access to safe drinking water, food banks and resources for the Veteran community in San Diego.

The event offered many resources to help teams turn their ideas into projects - learning stations with technology experts and mentors from the County of San Diego, the San Diego Regional Data Library, Open San Diego, the ZIP IdeaLab and the overall SDSU academic community.

The Center for Human Dynamics in the Mobile Age (HDMA) at SDSU started this hackathon event in 2015 with the goal of getting like-minded students and experts together to develop technology-based solutions to important civic issues in California. Participants generate or use publicly accessible datasets that offer local, state and national data relevant to San Diego, such as the Live Well San Diego data access portal, to build their solutions.

Participants had much to gain from taking part in this year’s event which featured 18 teams and 125 participants.

Dr. Ming-Hsiang Tsou, Professor in Geography at SDSU and Director of HDMA said, “Students learned how to analyze public health data and how to use data analytical tools and methods in order to solve real world public health problems in a teamwork format.”

“It was very exciting to see the quality and caliber of these projects,” said Leslie Ray, Senior Epidemiologist for the County of San Diego, who served as a speaker, mentor and judge for the event.  “The participants, some of them high school students, had only two weeks to develop an app, platform or technology that would tie in to the theme of public health.”

Six prizes were awarded at the end of the event.

The first prize and the strongest teamwork prize went to the team ‘The Dude Abides,’ whose idea was to create a texting service to provide information on the location of the nearest food banks or health services for the user. The project addresses the area of food security and nutrition.

“This was a creative way to get resource information to individuals,” said Ray. “I could see this project easily expanded – not just for food banks – but if you need a doctor or Veteran assistance or mental health services.”

The second prize went to the team ‘Data Pros,’ who created a project that analyzes information on heart disease in San Diego and provides recommendations for improving heart health. The project also identifies areas at high risk for heart disease to help potential users make informed decisions about running campaigns and channelizing funds for the cause.

“This was an interesting project because it combined both the Health and Thriving agendas of the Live Well San Diego vision,” said Ray. “Not only did they identify areas with a high risk for heart disease and opportunities for reducing that risk, but they also wanted to help users engage in community improvements for the heart health of everyone.”

The third prize went to the team ‘PathFinders,’ who aim to develop a project that would find alternative biking/walking routes away from areas known for accidents and air pollution.

“The team used crime statistics, sidewalk locations, bike routes, air pollution data and traffic conditions to provide the safest route to walk or bike to a location,” said Ray. “It was awesome to see that the spirit of all of these projects was about how they could help struggling communities and individuals overcome challenges.  It gave me a lot of hope for what this next generation will do.” 

The prize for the Most Innovative Proposal went to team ‘Watergirlz and 1 Boy,’ who will provide information on locations of water fountains to improve access to safe and free drinking water at schools and parks.

ArcBBQ won the prize for the Most Thorough Design and Development, sponsored by Perspectium, for their project on building a dashboard to monitor mental health on related hot topics within the San Diego county.

“This Hackathon resulted in new collaborations amongst our students and the larger San Diego community on how public health issues could be addressed in our state,” said Dr. Amy Schmitz Weiss, the Lead Coordinator for this Hackathon and Associate Professor in the School of Journalism and Media Studies at SDSU. “We are excited to see what the teams develop and launch in the months ahead as a result of the Hackathon.”

These projects are in the public domain under the Creative Commons license and can be accessed at Big Data for San Diego and This Resource Hub.

The Dude Abides - First prize and Strongest Teamwork prize


Team Working During Big Data Hackathon