When Ian Mackinnon proposed that CAAT hold a “Hack Day” to help enhance and improve the presentation of CAAT’s data, I was intrigued. Ian is the data programmer whose skills have enabled CAAT to convert static arms export data from the UK and the European Union into flexible and accessible formats on CAAT website.
CAAT has organised many types of gathering but this was our first Hack Day. Who would respond? Would participants have the skills to deal with the complex data?
As it happens, there was no need to worry. The excellent management and communication skills of Ian and the organising team of Joana, Louis, Jesse and Ursula had persuaded 15 enthusiasts to take a “summer” Saturday out to join us at Kings College in central London.
The group possessed a mixture of skills and expertise – programmers, data journalists, number crunchers, visual artists and other techie areas I have no words to describe. Most were young but others had years of work experience. They came from varying nationalities and backgrounds. About one quarter were women.
What they all had in common was infectious enthusiasm, a compelling work ethic, amazing IT skills and a collective intellect which could light up the national grid. They were quick to catch on to the problems and even quicker to propose ways forward.
So, what happened on Hack Day?
The morning started with presentations on the arms trade and how and where CAAT obtained its data. We then broke into groups and moved into problem-solving and tackling specific tasks on with information gathering, retrieval, and presentation.
The environment at Kings encouraged creativity, especially as you could scribble ideas directly on the white walls around the room (don’t worry, it was all removable) and then photograph the results.
In the afternoon, participants split into three groups, each exploring a different aspect of the data,. One looked the gathering of data and how CAAT could collect and identify information on weapons such as teargas and other crowd control technology.
Another group looked at visualising the current data, turning rows of numbers into a colourful map, tagging countries and military classifications at the click of a mouse. This would be a great way of reaching people who are turned off by long rows of stats and want something more accessible.
The third group found a way of combing serious content with a humorous touch by developing an (almost convincing) weapons sales website, built along the same lines as a highly popular website (I’m not allowed to say which one).
We ended the day on a high note with presentation from each team. The participants left full of enthusiasm, many vowing to take the ideas forward in their own time. It was easy to share their zest even if I don’t have their amazing skills.
A big thanks to all the participants and to the Hack Day organising team from everyone at Campaign Against Arms Trade.