A Jam to solve the Jam
India’s Silicon Valley frequently crops up when discussing harrowing traffic congestion, and data might just provide us the solutions
DataKind’s idea of bringing about a change is all about one belief. The belief that, within each one of us individuals in this society, lies a problem solver — someone who has the ability to view the reality around us through a lens that allows them to engage with it more deeply, recognise the avenues for improving the state of affairs, and wilfully contribute to bringing about the required change. It’s this belief that allows DataKind to bring together folks from different walks of life — story tellers, data geeks, change agents, and just socially conscious citizens to the one common platform of a DataJam — a hackathon-esque event, where interdisciplinary ideas coalesce to tackle relevant and pressing civic issues plaguing our city.
The civic issue: Bangalore’s traffic woes
June’s DataJam, organised in association with OpenCity and Co Media Lab with Bosch India as our host and domain partner (a big shout out to Meera from OpenCity, Shobha from Co Media Lab and Pawan and Vivekanand from Bosch for their support and enthusiasm), was one such gathering focused on trying to take a deeper look at the traffic mobility situation in Bangalore. India’s Silicon Valley frequently crops up when discussing harrowing traffic congestion across the world (we’re looking at you Silk Board!), and there seemed to be merit in trying to see if data around these aspects could provide us solutions, or nudge us in directions previously lost in the brouhaha
With over 50 participants from very diverse backgrounds — journalists, non-profits, members from civic bodies, entrepreneurs, product/app/web developers, data scientists, and subject matter experts in the field of mobility — the event’s undertaking was simple: Break out into groups — ensuring that your group retains the diversity in viewpoints — and begin by finalising on the problem statement you want to tackle. Which areas of the city are well serviced by buses and Metro? How does traveling in Uber look like at different times of the day? So on and so forth.
Then, use the data tools to explore, analyse and visualise data related to transportation and commute in Bangalore to see if a story emerges giving us a better understanding of the issue and revealing potential insights into how to go about solving it. Lastly, present the approach, findings and solution to the rest, to allow for synergies.
Data Do-gooders, assemble!
The 6 eclectic teams brainstormed to fix on the problem statements, and as one participant put it, “started off trying to solve all the problems of the world including poverty and hunger, but gradually narrowed the scope to focus on mobility related issues”, keeping in mind the time and data availability constraints. Ultimately the problem statements finalised were very intriguing. One group hoped to analyse BMTC Route and Stops towards achieving higher ridership, so as to increase the use of public transport and result in improved citizen services. Another aimed to understand the last mile connectivity provided by buses around metro stations to see if poor bus route optimisation causes traffic congestion.
The brainstorming activity also threw up an interesting creativity showdown, when teams tasked with saving all of their group’s work on the cloud, tried to come up with amusing names for their respective groups — such as ‘DateWithData’, and the whacky ‘DoWeNeedToHaveATeamName’
With the problem statements finalised (and lunch served), it was now time to get their hands dirty with the datasets. The participants could make use of any data science tech of their choice (R, Python, Excel, Tableau etc.). Codes were written, Pivot charts were prepared and Geospatial maps were created in an engaging 2 hour all-hands on deck session, that required groups to think critically as well as out of the box, to get around some of the issues of limited public dataset availability. In the world of civic data, there is always a lookout for a dataset of higher quality, something that is more granular, something that is dynamic — but one is often forced to work with what one gets their hands on and these teams displayed immense imagination in dealing with the data that they did have access to. Indeed, as Margaret Thatcher said, “There is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about”
The final presentations were a treat to behold, simply because the solutions were so wide ranging and distinct in their approaches to solving problems in the same domain. One team geo-mapped hotspots to identify bus routes servicing a particular area, and analysed population density around these bus stops to identify alternate solutions, evaluate and propose deployment. Another brought out relationships between factors such as demography, gender, economic class, and different geographical zones and tried to use this information to evaluate a connection with people’s commute patterns when using public transport. There was one group that presented a simple, yet elegant pivot chart that digitised the BMTC calendar/schedule — that could allow BMTC to evaluate route traffic and bus capacity and accordingly adjust their schedule
That a day’s gathering can result in outcomes so insightful and actionable only goes to show data’s power in bringing core civic issues front and centre. Even towards the end, the participants remained enthused to further some of these solutions in a future DataJam session, to potentially expand on the foundation laid, and explore avenues of engaging on these solutions with relevant administrative bodies and policy makers
All in all, the DataJam was about mission driven data-do-gooders, working to tackle one of Bangalore’s toughest problems with data science. Henry Ford echoed these sentiments years ago that, “Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress and working together is success” and DataKind is proud to have provided a platform that fostered this.