Why BIG Data Matters for Lower Mekong Countries

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While big data represents a new era of computing, what does it mean for civil society organizations in Southeast Asia? How can nations in the Lower Mekong harvest the power of big data? These were the questions discussed during a five-day workshop, from 8–12 June, 2015, at College Of Innovation of Thammasat University Pattaya in Thailand.
New Opportunities Mean New Challenges
Where data in any format may be explored and utilized, the Mekong ICT Camp featured a series of workshops and panel discussions to help more than 60 participants from the region to learn open source technologies, define, and design project challenges. With design thinking methodology, facilitated by Good Factory, participants focused on prototyping those challenges for social impact projects.
Klaikong Vaidhyakarn, a lead organizer, said “Big data is coming to our daily life since mobile phone penetration in the Mekong region saw double growth and this is an opportunity to use data in development works such as health, environment or even disaster risk reduction. Some development projects, including community health data human and animal to prevent disease outbreak, have already leveraged big data.”
The new skills to crowdsource and harness open data and content will be crucial for participants, ICT specialists, journalists, and community health workers. Klaikong added that: “There are three learning themes that we call labs in Mekong ICT Camp this year: open data, social media and crowdsourcing, [and] community wireless communication. We expect participants will get knowledge and experience through the workshops of those topics, and they could initiate a concept for prototyping, so that they might use the prototype to pilot their project after the camp.”
Design Lab: Crowdsourcing and Open Data
To facilitate and mentor hands-on sessions like Open Data and Crowdsourcing, InSTEDD iLab Southeast Asia (iLab SEA) teamed up with Open Development Cambodia and Singapore-based Engage Media to lead the hackathon (or lab) sessions, helping participants to turn their challenges into early prototypes.
Channa Ly, the iLab SEA’s senior software developer, said “Digital disease detection tools can help organizations across the Mekong countries to improve data collection based on mobile, open source technologies.”
Building Community Wireless Network
Led by Ryan Gerety of Open Technology Institute, this hands-on session prepared three groups of participants to work on project designs using mesh WiFi network connections to help those disconnected to have access to information, especially during the emergencies.
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A few of the workshops included:
• Create Viral Content
• Anyone Can Code
• Open Data for Development Work
• Using Technology for Health
In addition to the workshops and lab sessions, two panel discussions, digital laws and open development Mekong, were also featured in the event. Before concluding the event, some of the participants shared their skills at BarCamp Mekong. The open, user-generated 15 sessions took place in parallel in just an afternoon.
Mekong ICT Camp is a bi-yearly workshop that is focused on improving ICT skills among civil society organizations. The first series of this regional event was first organized in 2008 in Thailand.
This post was originally published under the Mekong ICT blog.
Tharum Bun is a Communications and Digital Media Manager at InSTEDD iLab Southeast Asia. He’s passionate about the intersection of technology and the humanities. His writings have appeared in The Huffington Post, Asian Correspondent, Tech In Asia, The UN’s Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), and Global Voices Online, The Phnom Penh Post. Find him on Twitter: @tharum