Organising Datathons to fuel new thinking and develop new skills

One of the objectives of BlueBRIDGE was to stimulate adoption of its resources (datasets, data analytics and technologies) and transfer knowledge to key stakeholders in different domains. Traditionally these objectives are achieved through promotional activities and ad hoc face-to-face meetings with potential users and through training courses. Very often these are separate activities which requires quite a deal of effort for their preparation and financial resources. That’s why BlueBRIDGE implemented a different approach that can be considered a best practice: the organisation of datathons.

The BlueBRIDGE best practice

In June 2017, BlueBRIDGE decided to organise a datathon. The generic challenge of the BlueBRIDGE datathon was to fuel new thinking in the holistic analysis of satellite, environmental, biological and socio economic data and the interactions between fisheries, aquaculture and marine spatial planning.

The datathon-specific challenges were: 

  • Developing a holistic approach to spatial planning for marine protected areas based on knowledge transfer and integration
  • Assessing new fisheries and aquaculture activities and mainstreaming environmental and socioeconomic indicators
  • Incorporating socio-economic and environmental data in aquaculture assessment, strategic planning and performance analysis

 

A datathon of this type usually takes place at a research centre or environmental organization, with a usual duration of 2 days, that’s why BlueBRIDGE selected the HCMR venue.

 

The datathon mainly focused on developing innovative ideas and applications using the data formats, services and products offered by BlueBRIDGE and by other related initiatives (Copernicus, EMODnet, etc.).

 

The agenda of the datathon was very interactive including presentations of the challenges and of the different tools and datasets provided by the different supporting initiatives, along with related use cases for the specific thematic area of the datathon (such as aquaculture, fisheries, etc). One day and a half then were entirely dedicated to the working sessions: participants teamed up in working groups which, supported by a set of coaches with diverse background and skills, transformed their ideas in working applications.

 

In this way participants were able to start developing applications while enhancing their skills.

 

 

Why this is considered a best practice   

Best Practice Analysis

Validation

A special evaluation session was organized at the end of the datathon engaging the audience, invited speakers and participants. This allowed the organizers to collect feedback from the attendees which resulted to be very positive.

Innovation

The datathon can be considered as an innovative approach as it managed: – based on the main idea of data exploitation - 1) to attract many participants, having diverse scientific and professional backgrounds, 2) to highlight the challenges of different but complementary domains (such as fisheries, aquaculture, business and ICT) and 3) to stimulate the participants to work on innovative and efficient ideas.

Success Factors

Based on the experience gained, the next successful datathon requires:

  1. Nice environment supporting the cooperative atmosphere (location, weather, food, recreational activities) in order to provide pleasant working conditions
  2. A concrete scope of the datathon
  3. Complementary areas of interest, such as aquaculture and information technology
  4. Excellent and convincing speakers
  5. Sufficient amount of open datasets, services and tools
  6. Sufficient mixture of differently experienced participants, such as engineers and aquaculture scientists and researchers
  7. Prizes for attracting participation

Sustainability

  • Methodology steps to be kept as a practice
  • Datathon events to be included as part of training strategy of EC funded projects
  • Frequent dissemination activities regarding the usefulness and the effectiveness of the “datathons“ to potential organizations

Replicability and/or up-scaling

Datathons can be replicated in each data-intensive domain. In particular the BlueBRIDGE datathon inspired the organisation of the EMODnet Open Sea Lab Hackathon which was as well a successful datathon in the marine domain.

Lessons Learnt

A Datathon is an excellent opportunity to meet people, projects, results (data and services) from different domains and provide promising outcomes for further development. It additionally provides the framework for combining the needs and answers in a very cooperative environment. New technologies become familiar to a wider audience of varying expertise and backgrounds and new synergies evolve.

The Datathon proved to be an innovative, interactive and user-friendly approach to convince students, researchers and managers from thematic areas unfamiliar with ICT, to use and exploit the up-to-date data models and services made available by BlueBRIDGE for their needs.

The datathon is a complex concept that is difficult to communicate to the candidate participants. Multiple methods of approach are suggested such as: f2f meetings, social media campaigns, traditional announcements tailored to the thematic areas experts that are not familiar with the –“thon” events, such as hackathons, datathons, etc. An evaluation session should also be part of the datathon agenda, in order to ensure the participation and response of the participants.