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Photos provided by Datafest Ottawa

Datafest Ottawa sparks our imaginations with new ideas and concepts to tackle social issues

By Andrew Monro on December 18, 2017

Andrew Monro is Apt613’s correspondent at Impact Hub Ottawa, writing about the many innovators that call Hub home. Hub is a co-working space at 123 Slater Street for projects with a positive local and global impact.

“Social challenges are not going to be solved by one skill set. You need to bring together developers, designers, subject matter experts, data experts, UX designers, policy people, and users, and expose them to how things could be done differently.”

Back in 2014, Lisa Deacon and Louisa Taylor organized a hackathon with a curious desire to design and deliver an innovative event that had social impact. They had identified complex, systemic barriers in the social change sector and wanted to test making full use of technology, co-creation, and data to address struggles related to existing silos. They decided to build a space for people and resources to come together and flourish.

Their first hackathon, Hacking Migration in the Capital, centred on migration issues in Ottawa. A grassroots effort, fuelled by supportive local meetup groups, generated a large turnout and confirmed that their hackathons could work as an annual event. They founded their social enterprise, Datafest Ottawa, as an engine for creating innovation events, with their hackathons the capstone event of their year.

“It’s interesting to be in Ottawa and participate in the evolution of open data and open government, exploring through hackathons, experiential learning, prototypes, testing grounds for open data, and safe spaces,” says Lisa.

Now in their fourth year, Datafest recently finished their latest hackathon, called the Future of Work, which saw over 100 attendees. With projections indicating that a lot of work will be automated using robotics and artificial intelligence, there are serious concerns regarding migrants, youth, and the poor, who tend to work jobs that are likely candidates for automation. The hackathon focused on questions of how the workforce is changing, how workers will be affected, and what solutions are there to help vulnerable workers through these transitions. This resulted in 15 hack project pitches, 10 prototypes, and ultimately three presented to the Trilateral Commission.

Lisa notes that they could not have done this without generous community support. They are especially grateful to Future of Work Co-Chair and Founder of Paddle HR, Matthew Thomas, who inspired this year’s theme and co-led the undertaking. They are also grateful to Impact Hub Ottawa, the host of Datafest events, as well as RBC, McKinsey and Company, Uber, the Trilateral Commission, H&K Strategies , and Innovation, Science, and Economic Development Canada.

Datafest is already planning to do another hackathon next year, and is interested in hearing from anyone with ideas for next year’s theme, or are even just curious in being a part of future events. They are currently looking for someone with event management expertise to help them, and with engaging with the local business and non-profit ecosystem, including startups, incubators, and co-working spaces. You can join their mailing list or contact them at