Mission Australia + the Wayside Chapel

At Sydney Data for Democracy, we see the projects and the ideas of our community as small grains that could one day lead to greater changes. Each data for good project is the beginning of a collaboration, a skill and a positive impact on the society as a whole. Two weeks ago, we had the chance to be part of the Visiting Entrepreneur Program and organise our first datahackathon with City of Sydney. This article summarises the awesome afternoon we had with everyone.

On a Saturday afternoon in late November, 35 data science volunteers gathered at the Juanita Nielson Community Centre to hack together solutions for charity data problems. This was the first Sydney Datahackathon for Social Good, a partnership between Data for Democracy, the City of Sydney, Mission Australia, and the Wayside Chapel.

That event had two goals: creating a strong and innovative connection between our community and the charities, and building a greater sense of belonging among the volunteers. The first objective was already partially met by the theme and the structure of the hackathon. Combining data science and social impact and having demand-driven challenges — that have a practical application for the charities — made the hackathon unique from the very beginning. But we wanted to go one step further and support the follow-up of the hackathon to make sure these ideas would keep evolving. Our second goal, creating a stronger community, was reached by the great vibes of the afternoon. Everyone was present to meet like-minded people, have a better social impact and learn something new. That magical recipe had a great result, the room was boiling.

The challenges brought to the data science volunteers were novel and interesting. Mission Australia brought the challenge of increasing charitable giving through informing donors of community services located nearby in their backyard. Mission Australia opened up some of their anonymised data in support of this challenge. Wayside Chapel brought the challenge of ethically capturing data about the movements of homeless people, and offered years of pragmatic experience in homeless programs.

It was remarkable to witness what 35 volunteers, split into 6 groups, could accomplish given a three hour deadline. Teams were formed quickly, chose one of the two challenges, consulted closely with the charity, and quickly prototyped a solution. Each team pitched their solution, and three winners were chosen at the end based on how their project demonstrated an ethical, innovative, and data driven solution.

The winners were:

The “First Timers”, who won both the Mission Australia challenge, and the people’s choice challenge. See the pitch here.

The “Street Guardians”, who won the Wayside Chapel challenge. See the pitch here.

Our volunteers left the event with new friends, a better understanding of important social problems, and several offers to pitch their solutions to charity leadership. Not bad for an afternoon’s work!

A big thankyou to Mission Australia, Wayside Chapel, and the City of Sydney for supporting this event. We also want to thank all the D4D volunteers and participants for their ongoing work and support. We cannot wait to see what the next year will bring and how we can create better connections for a greater positive impact.

If you’re interested to learn more about how Data can drive social good, check out Data For Democracy, and consider coming along to our next meetup in Sydney on the 20th of December. This will be the occasion to meet everyone in a casual environment and set a goal for the new year.

Ethel Karskens