Using IT to resolve civic issues

January 27, 2014

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LAHORE: Radiating youthful energy and interest, 85 information technology students of 15 teams were replying to intense questions by their seniors in the field, explaining how they plan to use their skill to help Lahore resolve its problems.

These youngsters had designed and built prototypes of web, mobile, or SMS applications to help address civic problems.

The intense probe was aimed at selecting the best five teams of the Civic Hackathon arranged by the Code for Pakistan, a non-profit organisation, at Smart Lab of Lahore University of Management Sciences’ School of Science and Engineering on Sunday evening. Technology of People Initiative, LUMS, was among many co-organisers.

Despite the grilling by the judges, none of the contestants looked down. All the participating civic-minded software programmers, designers, data analysts, and community organisers, including young women, looked determined to innovate in public services by creating solutions to address the needs of citizens.

“We want to empower citizens so that they come together and cater to their civic needs through use of modern civic technology. We want to build web, mobile, and SMS applications on top of open data,” said Qandeel Tariq, one of the contestants from LUMS.

“We want to improve the way the government works,” said the contestant who had designed a programme for identifying garbage in the city.

It was the concluding segment of the three-day Hackathon that began on Friday. The first such event was held in Karachi last year and the next would be in Peshawar by the end of the next week.

The judges included Dr Sohaib Khan of LUMS, Messers Zia Imran, Yasir Bashir, Khurram Zafar and Zafar Khan, all representing different information technology companies. Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf MNA Shafqat Mahmood was the observer.

A Hackathon is typically a free event where software programmers, designers, and other innovators come together to form teams that design and build digital solutions to specific problems.

“We are bringing together IT people. This is an opportunity for citizens to use their skills to create solutions for Pakistan by innovating in public services,” said Sheba Najmi, founder and executive director of Code for Pakistan.

The teams presented projects on different civic issues like public healthcare, toilets, crime map, epidemics, career sharper network, car pooling, garbage management and reporting criminals in an area.

The career network was designed to connect job seekers with employers through SMS or website.

Talal Siddiqui and Musab Suhail, both computer science students of local universities, designed a system whereby one could post all kind of information in an electoral constituency.

“This will inform people what an MNA or MPA has done for them and what he has not through SMS,’’ said Musab.

Gohar Irfan Minhas said the effort was aimed at informing the authorities of civic problems and letting the people know what the government was doing to resolve these issues.

“This is like creating openness, creating public opinion. Yes media will also be able to get information which, otherwise, it is unable to collect. This can lead to public muckraking,” he said.

Meanwhile, the five best projects as rated by the judges are: Sawari (carpooling), Paksaaf (garbage information), A Blood Donors’ Directory, Which Bus (information on buses and their routes) and Civipost (civic problems).

The team leaders were Madeeha Hassan, Qandeel Tariq, Raza Jaffri, Shoaib Ahmad Gondal and Chaudhry Talha Waseem.

The contest winners and others would keep in touch with their mentors who helped them design their programmes, for further improvement or new systems

Ms Sheba Najmi said she planned to make a Lahore Brigade where citizens would be able to regularly meet and advance the activity.