ImpactHack: Visualizing Diplomacy, Development, and the Environment

5 minutes read time
Taylor Funk, Brianna McGowan,Chaudhry Talha and Alex Cohen stands with Diplomacy Center host Kelsey Cvach after winning first place for their project My State, My State Department.
Taylor Funk, Brianna McGowan,Chaudhry Talha and Alex Cohen stands with Diplomacy Center host Kelsey Cvach after winning first place for their project My State, My State Department.

ImpactHack: Visualizing Diplomacy, Development, and the Environment

On September 21 and 22, the United States Diplomacy Center and World Resources Institute partnered to host ImpactHack, a data visualization hackathon in Washington D.C. Sixteen teams competed to demonstrate diplomacy’s impact, from local state economies to global issues, using their coding and design skills. Amazon Web Services was the Title Sponsor and generously donated their time, technology, and expertise to managing the hackathon. Promising projects from this hackathon will be used to develop Diplomacy Center exhibit prototypes.

My State, My State Department

The winning project, My State, My State Department, was created by Alex Cohen, Taylor Funk, Brianna McGowan, and Chaudhry Talha. The team created an interactive map and game that connects the work of American diplomacy with its impact on local communities across the U.S. The team used a United States map to allow users to explore the benefits of real diplomatic negotiations to regional U.S. interests, and to test their own skills in diplomacy. The project even allowed users to tweet their results.

“After about two hours of brainstorming, my team knew we wanted to gamify state by state diplomacy and make it fun to interact with, learning not only the significance of diplomacy, but also increasing knowledge on the importance of the State Department and the impressive work they do.” 

-Brianna McGowan

The My State, My State Department team is all the more remarkable because they had just met each other at the opening event. They are excited about the possibility that their project could be used in the future Diplomacy Center museum.

Data Ambassadors

The second place project, Data Ambassadors, demonstrated America’s diplomatic growth over time through an interactive map. The map included the context of historical events and a clickable timeline spanning the birth of the United States to current day. This team, consisting of Aaron Corso, Jeff Hale, Jessica Martin, and Chia-Hua Peng, also met at the opening event. Jessica plans to work with the Diplomacy Center to continue building out the project. She reports: “I am working on polishing it and adding final features. This isn’t something that has been done before.”

“Tech and data visualizations in particular, democratize diplomacy. Living in the DC area makes you more acutely aware of the activities of diplomats, but for someone living in the midwest, they may not have the constant exposure or awareness. The projects at this hackathon showed great promise in how we can raise awareness of how American diplomacy affects everyone by putting you in the driver's seat. “

-Aaron Corso

Global Movement

The third place project, Global Movement, addressed the factors that may relate to refugee rates, including a country’s relative freedom. This high school team, including Kashyap Murali, Aditya Patil, Krishnan Ram, and Jinal Shah, had driven down from New Jersey to participate in the hackathon after winning a travel sponsorship for their diplomatic relationship simulator in another hackathon in May. Several intend to apply for internships at the State Department in the future.

Special Prize: Most likely to be Published

Alice Feng won the special category award, “Most Likely to Be Published” with her project. She used data and graphics to tell an immersive story of the Paris Agreement, which was a landmark in terms of how many countries signed on in a short time. She used data visualizations show how the rapid adoption of the Paris Agreement stands out relative to other agreements, and then moved on to explore what impact this agreement will have, if any, on trying to stop the forces of climate change.

“I feel technology can play an important role in American diplomacy, whether by using it to educate citizens about our diplomatic efforts or as a way for us to learn more about and build stronger relationships with other cultures. I hope to participate in more opportunities to use data visualization to tell stories about the impact of international collaboration.” 

-Alice Feng

About ImpactHack

ImpactHack took place over the course of 40 hours in two locations. The kickoff launched at the Diplomacy Center with remarks from Mary Kane, the Diplomacy Center’s director, Janet Ranganathan, World Resources Institute’s VP of Climate and Research, and Mark Smith of the hackathon’s Title Sponsor, Amazon Web Services. Participants met mentors, formed groups and began projects. After a full day of guided designing, coding, and testing at World Resources Institute, groups presented their projects. While judges made final decision, Joe Dooley, policy manager at Google, spoke about the importance of open data and higher education in STEM. The $3,000 in prizes were announced and projects published for continued development.

The United States Diplomacy Center will be the first museum and education center to tell the story of the history, practice, and challenges of American diplomacy. Through exhibitions and programs, the Center will inspire the American public to discover diplomacy and how it impacts their lives every day.

The World Resources Institute is a global research organization that spans more than 60 countries. Their more than 700 experts and staff work closely with leaders to turn big ideas into action to sustain Earth’s natural resources -- the foundation of economic opportunity and human well-being.

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

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