Hacking for Human Rights

The power of community and collaboration

Posted by Anelda van der Walt on June 04, 2019 · 4 mins read

On Saturday 1 June, 2019 I was priviledged to join the Hack for Human Rights day that was organised by CODEBRIDGE Newlands and some of their partners.


CODEBRIDGE is an "open community at the intersection of civic-tech and social change". People from the CODEBRIDGE community include programmers, activists, data analysts, designers, human rights lawyers, government officials, journalists, visual artists, storytellers, and more. The aim of CODEBRIDGE is to encourage the use of civic technology to develop innovative ways to address societal problems in collaboration with communities who experience these problems.

Not only is this a great community to get involved in, but I also thought this was a great place to get to practice some of my data sciency skills on some real-world problems. And... nobody here was going to be too picky about my limited credentials in Data Science as a field.

Hack for Human Rights & Metabolism of Cities

Several projects were pitched on the day and participants could select which of the projects they'd like to contribute to. Amongst these were the Metabolism of Cities Project which I decided to contribute to.

The Metabolism of Cities project collate information about material flow through cities. A wide variety of data is needed to understand the full picture of material flow through a city and therefore this project lends itself very well for people from all ages, skill level, background, to contribute. For more about how to get involved or contribute to this project, please visit their website.

Paul Hoekman introduced the project at the start of the day and provided very clear guidelines and resources to make it easy to contribute. We used a Trello Board to see who is contributing to which aspects of the project. Paul also made available some instructional videos about contributing. Links to these resources are available here. What really attracted me to the project was the amount of thought that Paul and the rest of the team had put into making the project accessible for others to join and contribute. There are loads of ways to get involved and people with very limited programming experience will find opportunities there as much as highly experienced developers.

Contributing via Python, Jupyter Notebooks

I was immediately drawn to a ticket which required a dataset to be downloaded from the City of Cape Town Open Data Portal. Over the past few years I've gained some experience with open data and I was keen to see what the City of Cape Town has on offer, including looking at the rigour of the data, metadata, data formats and more.

I created a Jupyter Notebook that explains all the steps taken to get from the raw Comma-seperated format file obtained from City of Cape Town to the data format required for upload into the Metabolism of Cities database. The raw data, Python script (in Jupyter Notebook), as well as the newly created files are available in my Github repository.

Lessons Learned

  • I really enjoyed the vibe at CODEBRIDGE and can highly recommend getting involved in this community if you want to learn, teach, and contribute
  • The Metabolism of Cities project is really accessible and welcoming.
  • I'm looking forward to keep on collaborating and contributing to these two projects and communities.

    Thanks to everyone who made the day a wonderful experience!