ODI Showcase – Winner’s Q&A: VacSeen

We chat with Partha S Bhattacharjee and Monika Solanki about their ideas behind winning ODI Showcase project Vacseen, and what the team has in store

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Health clinic opening in Pehunco, Benin. CC BY 2.0, uploaded by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Hi! What’s your idea in a nutshell?

In short, we want every child in the world to have access to life-saving vaccines. Troves of proprietary and open data are available that can help governments, health authorities, non-profits, and manufacturers make informed decisions so that the right vaccine reaches the right child at the right time. Unfortunately, a lot of this data sits in isolated pockets and thus does not get utilised for decision-making. We are linking these datasets to help the decision-makers in ensuring continued supply of vaccines to remote regions of the world.

Sounds interesting! What gave you this idea?

As a graduate student, Partha stumbled upon the idea of the semantic or ‘smart’ web and linked data. He was interested in vaccine access and this technology promised to help solve a key issue hindering global access to vaccines – the lack of information about vaccine logistics in developing countries. He reached out to Monika who had been working in the area for a long time and we have been working together since then.

When did you first get excited about open data?

Partha: We were once tasked with plotting the bus routes in Boston on a map as part of a class. As the project matured, I was thrilled to see the dots move on the map (and to know when I didn't have to wait for a bus!). That experience provided me with a first hand account of the transformative power of open data. Since that experience, I routinely explore open datasets on the web and incorporate them in my projects.

Monika: While using, encouraging and providing 'open' has always been my focus during application development, because of mostly non-existent or ambiguous licensing issues it was not always easy to use open data. When intiatives such as data.gov.uk and data.gov were launched and licensing information regarding datasets became explicit, open data became much more accessible and therefore exciting to use

Where do you see open data in 10 years?

We think open data will evolve from being a ‘nice to have’ resource to a necessity, like electricity or the world wide web in the next few years. Governments will be expected to open their data, companies will find value in making some of their data public as well as using the data that is public, and the entrepreneurial community will design use cases that will have profound relevance to our lives.

What are your plans for your project, and how will you achieve them?

We plan to develop a working prototype that can be deployed in the field. We have partnered with VaxTrac, a U.S.-based non-profit to help implement the prototype in Benin. We are very excited to be working with the ODI and look forward to building VacSeen going forward.

The team

Partha S Bhattacharjee, @partha_sb

Monika Solanki, @nimonika

Website: http://w3id.org/vacseen

Twitter: @VacSeenProject

The ODI Showcase supports projects that demonstrate how open data can be used to bring longstanding benefits to individuals, organisations and society. The ODI provides grant funding, mentoring and promotional support to maximise these impacts. Find out more here.