Over the past couple of months, I have been developing NEHA’s first application (app) challenge, with the support of Esri and Hedgerow Software. Not only is this something I have never done before, it’s something that I never imagined doing. App challenges always seemed like something reserved for the tech world, but now I know that they can be useful and impactful in almost any arena.
An app challenge is an opportunity for individuals or teams to develop desktop or mobile apps (think of the photo, food or weather app on your phone) that fulfill a function that does not already exist. An integral part of creating apps is having available data that you can use and manipulate to create apps; enter open source data (OSD). OSD is data that is easily available and shareable, at no cost, in a modifiable format that allows for it to be mixed with other datasets and different software systems. There are many types of OSD, for example government data, social media data, news data, sports data, weather data, and the list goes on.
In the field of environmental health, we also have notable sources of OSD, like the CDC’s Environmental Public Health Tracking Network. The Tracking Network is “a system of integrated health, exposure, and hazard information and data from a variety of national, state, and city sources” that has location specific information, among other things (CDC EPH Tracking).
Since Tracking Network data is available in OSD format, it allows for it to be used in conjunction with other datasets. I started trying to come up with ways to use this data in an original way, but I found it difficult to do. At this point, crowdsourcing for ideas and inspiration can be a really powerful tool, and that’s how the Innovating for Environmental Health App Challenge came to be. With an app challenge, there is an opportunity to invite a new audience to create a solution, in this case the solution is an app that integrates environmental health data and will be used to create a healthier human environment.
The mission of the Innovating for Environmental Health App Challenge is to create an app that helps to achieve one of the environmental health objectives, as identified by the Department of Health and Human Services. We are encouraging participants to utilize the CDC’s Environmental Public Health Tracking Network as a data source for their apps, as well as Esri's ArcGIS software.
The partnering of technology, environmental health, and government tracking data has the potential to send a powerful message; we are showing that real possibilities exist within the integration of these fields. As technology continues to evolve, the possibilities for its use also evolve. Technology becomes relevant to all of us and different expertise and voices play a critical role in dictating how it will be used.
It is imperative that we create opportunities for different fields to come together, to grow together, and work off of each other. If we create space for new ideas, who knows what kind of solutions it will bring?
What do you think?