Last weekend I had the opportunity to participate on the jury of the latest OpenDataMx hackathon, which gathered volunteer programmers and graphic designers to build applications and visualizations using government information related to child labor. I arrived with a fair deal of skepticism. The idea that a 48-hour hackathon could somehow make a dent in a problem as grave and complicated as child labor seemed somewhere between naive and ludicrous. How was open data going to do anything about this?:

But by the end of the day, I had changed my mind. The hackathon brought about much humbler, but completely worthwhile outcomes. First, around 20 people (including myself) became much more educated about the topic of child labor in Mexico. And second, the four main government agencies that work to eradicate child labor in the country (SEDESOL, Conapred, DIF, and PRONIM) all have much better visualizations of their (often poorly organized) data than they did before the end of the weekend. Hackathons don’t have to change the world, but they’re a great way to bring about a little more civic education and help government agencies use their data more efficiently.

The winning projects were:

  • A mashup comparing data about school desertion and child labor in all the states from 2007 to 2009.
  • Various visualizations and tables using the Tableau platform that compare data about child labor and type of agricultural cultivation.
  • A database template for a national program that gives scholarships to child laborers to as incentives to stay in school. The template, which relies on attractive graphics to help government employees better understand the context of the information, revealed just how poorly the federal institute manages its data.

You can see all the applications and visualizations that were developed at the OpenDataMX website.

Fractal, a daily TV program focused on technology, did a brief segment on the hackathon (it starts at the 5 minute mark).

Screen Shot 2012 07 21 at 5 36 PM

To learn more about the issue of child labor in Mexico, I recommend this infographic by Melissa Verástegui and the website El Otro Jardin.