Understanding Diplomacy Through Data

4 minutes read time
Jeffery Yu, pictured, used the D3.js JavaScript library to create a website that visualizes US diplomatic representation in foreign countries through time on a world map.
Jeffery Yu, pictured, used the D3.js JavaScript library to create a website that visualizes US diplomatic representation in foreign countries through time on a world map.

Understanding Diplomacy Through Data

In May, more than 100 students competed in the student-led hackathon, MakeSPP, in Jersey City, New Jersey. Hackathons are collaborative, competitive events where computer programmers are provided raw data or project prompts from a variety of topics that they turn into usable prototypes in a limited amount of time. At the end of the event, judges determine a winning project based on technological and creative achievement.  At MakeSPP, the United States Diplomacy Center submitted topics for the competitors focused on the growth of American diplomatic relations. Five student groups selected the Diplomacy Center for their data visualization projects, with incredible results. In eight short hours, students applied their coding skills to State Department data to produce ventures ranging from creative analysis to Virtual Reality projects.  I had the opportunity to serve as judge and to help select three winners.

The first winner Jeffrey Yu, built a functional interactive that traced the exchange of diplomats over time. For the prototype, he focused on 1817, the first year the data was available, 1940, as World War II was beginning, and 2006, a year in modern time. “As someone just starting to learn about data visualization, I hope to continue developing programs that will help the world understand important data representing foreign affairs and become a citizen diplomat myself,” he shared.

This team is planning to attend the Diplomacy Center's hackathon in September 2018, in Washington D.C. (Photo courtesy of MakeSPP)

The next winning team used the same exchange of data and applied the project not only to the United States’ diplomatic relationships but included the relationships other countries have with each other around the world. The team, consisting of Kashyap Murali, Jinal Shah, Aditya Patil, and Krishnan Ram, described their experience: “We were excited after reading the prompt, but we grew more passionate about the project after exploring the numerous opportunities for insights provided by the data. Both the people and the government can use these insights to better communicate and understand their diplomatic landscape.”

One of the winning teams. (Photo courtesy of MakeSPP)

The final winning team, led by Abhinav Dusi, built a prototype of an interactive map that attempted to demonstrate the growth of U.S. missions since the United States founding. They used the State Department website to pinpoint and compile establishment of diplomatic relationship dates and produced a timeline interactive map which showed U.S. embassies appearing worldwide over time. They went above and beyond the project prompt, incorporating photos of embassies and descriptions from the State Department website.

This remarkable response demonstrates a passion and excitement from tech-inclined students to apply their talents to diplomacy and international insight. The United States Diplomacy Center has invited these distinguished students to participate in its first-ever hackathon, which will take place at the Diplomacy Center Pavilion and World Resources Institute offices September 21st and 22nd. The final winning team, led by Abhinav Dusi, built a prototype of an interactive map that attempted to demonstrate the growth of U.S. missions since the United States founding. They used the State Department website to pinpoint and compile establishment of diplomatic relationship dates and produced a timeline interactive map which showed U.S. embassies appearing worldwide over time. They went above and beyond the project prompt, incorporating photos of embassies and descriptions from the State Department website.  

This team demonstrates applying machine learning to diplomacy-related data through their project, the Diplomatic Relationship Predictor. (Photo courtesy of MakeSPP)

Interested participants, and those interested in volunteering or sponsoring the Diplomacy Center’s hackathon, should visit ImpactHack.DevPost.com. We are excited to bring their energy and skills to this event and to connect them and other participants with experts from think tanks and leading technology organizations.  Using newly released data, participants will use visualizations to make some of the most globally impactful topics – diplomacy, development, and the environment – understandable in imaginative and groundbreaking ways.

Follow @Diplomacy Center on Twitter  and Facebook.

About the Author: Kelsey L. Cvach serves at the U.S. Diplomacy Center at the U.S. Department of State.

Editor's Note: This entry also appears in the U.S. Department of State's publication on Medium.