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August 09, 2018

Celebrating 20 Years of Open Source at O’Reilly Open Source Convention

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By Michael Downey

In the technology field, late Summer and early Autumn in the Northern Hemisphere is the traditional conference season — a time for colleagues to pause to reconnect with each other, learn about trends and challenges in the industry, and of course, build new relationships and strengthen old ones. For the past 20 years now, one of the biggest of these gatherings of creators and consumers of open source software has been the O’Reilly Open Source Convention (OSCON). DIAL’s Open Source Center team just returned from the event in Portland, Oregon, and once again left informed and refreshed as open source enters its third decade.

As Director of Community for the DIAL Open Source Center, I primarily focus on the power of people to build technology to improve the reach and impact of international development and humanitarian response work, and to bring people in our field together to tackle new problems and find new ways to collaborate. That’s why the Community Leadership Summit, held each year just before OSCON, was particularly valuable this year. An “unconference”, the content of the event is driven by participants. I hosted the “Beyond Fiscal Sponsors” session, where experts honed in on the challenges and gaps faced by open source software projects and how organizations like DIAL and our Open Source Center can fill those gaps and amplify the impact of software projects — not only in the development & humanitarian sectors, but also in all types of open source work.

Two days of tutorials and in-depth workshops followed for the team, on topics from giving better technical presentations, to coaching engineering team members, to technology platforms like Kubernetes, containers, and continuous delivery. Finally, there were two days of keynotes and shorter technical talks, enabling us learn about the work of our open source colleagues around the world as the develop best practices.

Of course, there were many exciting conversations for our team along the way. David McCann, the Center’s Director of Technology, sat down with O’Reilly Media to talk a little bit about the United Nations Foundation, DIAL, and how the Open Source Center is working to turbocharge projects in the international development space. Check out the interview here.

Throughout the weeklong event, the entire team — including the newest member of our team, Heath Arensen, was able to meet and brainstorm with key players in the tech industry about how we might adapt the lessons they’ve learned to build more financially sustainable open source software projects with long-lasting impact. We had great discussions sharing success stories and ideas for how to strengthen this invaluable effort to build even more technology capacity and launch more technology careers for women, people in the Global South, and other under-represented groups.

On the final day of the week, I presented a talk about the DIAL Open Source Center, how open source software is being used in critical humanitarian and development world in every part of the world, and how we’re helping to mitigate some of the risk involved by providing additional resources and services to those projects.

Conferences are major investments of time and energy, but the time spent on forging new relationships and partnerships, as well as teaching others about what we’ve learned, helps to increase the impact of every bit of work we do the rest of the year. Again this year, we were very grateful for the opportunity to be surrounding by thousands of our colleagues for such a vibrant and busy week.

July 26, 2018

FlowKit – an open source tool to support communities through mobile phone data (CDR) analysis

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Blog post from Syed Raza, DIAL, and Jonathan Gray, Flowminder.

 

Timely, accurate, high-resolution information on populations distributions, characteristics and movements are key to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Data that can help us to understand these key features of human populations are however lacking in many low and middle-income countries. A particularly interesting new data type, that can shed light on human populations and development challenges, comes from mobile network operators. Mobile Operators register Call Detail Records (CDRs) contain the time and associated cell tower of text messages, calls and other billable events. In de-identified format, these CDRs can be used to study human behaviour and mobility patterns at large scale, in near-real time and most importantly in places where other sources of data are not available.

With the number of mobile phone subscriptions constantly increasing around the world, this provides unprecedented opportunities to improve our understanding of human populations and better answer to the needs of vulnerable populations. Worldwide, we reached the five billion mark of mobile phone subscription in 2017 – with the latest one billion subscribers being reached in only four years (GSMA, 2017). Nearly 70% of the economically bottom fifth of the population in low-and middle-income countries now own a mobile phone. Based on this enormous growth, CDR data can for example support development activities in areas such as public health, poverty alleviation and infrastructure planning, as well as preparedness and response to disasters.

In collaboration with the Digital Impact Alliance (DIAL), we will deliver FlowKit, an open source, state of the art and easy-to-use toolkit that will strengthen and facilitate large-scale analyses of mobile operator data for development and humanitarian purposes. Our team will be rolling out a series of releases in the Autumn 2018, alongside documentation and templates. The releases will contain our present internal code base, documented and structured to be suitable for the open source community, as well as a number of expansions to the toolkit. User groups amongst Mobile Network Operators in low and middle-income countries and leading humanitarian and development agencies will support the validation of requirements, roadmaps and functionality.

Led by engineers, data scientists and subject area experts at Flowminder, the project will empower Mobile Network Operators and organisations to use insights from mobile operator data to improve their country’s development policy and disaster response. Our team has a track record of producing insights from CDR data to support development and humanitarian community with targeted analyses for decision support, as well as publishing peer-reviewed academic work on the use of mobile operator data. We will leverage this experience to provide the community with an expandable open source system that can support diverse tools using mobile operator data. We are excited to team up with DIAL and warmly welcome developers to take part in the project as it develops.

About Flowminder

Pioneer of the usage and analysis of mobile network data for development purposes, Flowminder is an award-winning, non-profit organisation funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, DFID, EU, World Bank, IDB, WFP, UN Foundation and others. Flowminder’s mission is to improve public health and welfare in low- and middle-income countries using data from mobile operators, satellites and geo-located household surveys. Much of its work is focused on understanding, monitoring and predicting the distributions, characteristics and dynamics of human populations, providing insights, tools and capacity building to governments, international agencies and NGOs. Examples of previous work include support to the humanitarian community in multiple disaster response operations (such as the Haiti 2010 Earthquake, the Nepal Earthquake 2015 and Haiti Hurricane Matthew 2016), poverty mapping or analyses of migration patterns. Flowminder works to ensure that everyone, especially the most vulnerable, count. Discover more at www.flowminder.org

Within the WorldPop programme, Flowminder works together with researchers at the University of Southampton, developing and operationalising new approaches to solving developmental and humanitarian challenges. Find out more at www.worldpop.org

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