Monday 10 November 2014

Health Hack 2014

I participated in the inaugural HealthHack in 2013 (my thoughts on that are here), and I was so impressed with the event that I signed up again this year. The format was very similar to last year's event, except that it was simultaneously held in both Melbourne and Sydney.

Friday Night

I (and many other volunteers) listened to the researchers pitch their ideas. My first impressions of the problems and their descriptions was less than stellar. I'm embarrassed to admit, I seriously considered calling it quits on Friday night and not joining a team. My views ranged from "there is no way I can add value to that team", to "what are they even trying to solve?", I was tired, and possibly a little intimidated by the amount of energy that everyone else had. But I was there, and I had been really looking forward to the event, so I went around the room listening to the researchers and asking questions that could give me a better understanding of how solving their problem would help the field of medical research, and whether or not my skills and knowledge would be useful.

In the end, I found @MVEG001's problem around the transparency of NHMRC funding to be the one that I could provide the most value on, and I placed my name on the team list and went home for the night with some links to the data sources that our team would most likely be basing our solution(s) upon.


We had a reasonably late start on Saturday, with the team coming together a little after 10. By this time, many of the other teams were already flat out coding, or had some very detailed flow diagrams that they were having animated discussions about.

Shortly after gathering together for the first time as a team, it was announced that the midway showcase would be at 4:30pm. Considering we had only just met each other, I was a little anxious about what we would have ready by that time!

We spent all of the morning getting a handle on all the data that was available, then gathered together to dream about the data that we wish we had, and finally culled all the options back to those pieces of data that were relevant and achievable in the timeframe that we had. @IrithWilliams did a great job of keeping the group creative and focused, and also ensured that we were going to implement a solution that would solve the most important problems for @MVEG001.

It was a little after 2pm when we started on the implementation. @sritchie73 had the first cut of the data cleansing done in about an hour, which was quite impressive, and this allowed the rest of us to start plugging real data into our visualisations.

By the time the showcase came around, we had a solid understanding of the problem we were trying to solve, and how we were going to solve it. 

I ended up leaving at about 9pm, and when I got home I got a little carried away and worked on the backend processing for my visualisation until 12am. 


We were all working hard on our visualisations for most of Sunday morning. When lunch time came around, we provided feedback on the different visualisations, and put some finishing touches on them. Somewhere in the middle of that @kiwintessential managed to expand our cleaned data set by another 9 years.

The afternoon was spent putting all our solutions together into one location, setting a licence, choosing colour palettes, and generally tidying things up. In addition, @fredmichna organised us all well enough to produce a video for our showcase. Unfortunately, we had a lot of trouble getting the iPad to play nice with the AppleTV, and we had to do our showcase the old fashioned way.

The team showcases were impressive, every team had delivered a huge amount in that short timeframe, and from what I could tell, every researcher was extremely happy with what their team had helped them deliver. 

Closing Thoughts

Once again, @sauramaia and her army of helpers put together a great weekend. I left feeling that our team had made a difference and made @MVEG001's life that little bit better. I was also pretty exhausted, but in a good way.

For those that are interested, here is our team page, and here is the list of winners for Melbourne.

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