Winner interview: Jaffly Chen from “Team Team”

Winner interview: Jaffly Chen from “Team Team”

Jaffly Chen says they were surprised and very happy to win two awards including the bounty prizes for “Intriguing combinations” & “More than apps and maps”. The project they built is called “Bubbles” and it came about from wanting to gamify or at least make data interesting to the layperson. There’s a game called “higher or lower” which gives you two Google search terms and asks you to guess which one has been searched for more in the past month. It’s a surprisingly addictive game, as you want to beat your previous score and there’s a lot of things that you wouldn’t have expected to be searched as much as they are. It highlights misjudgement that comes from your own background and perspective about what you think is important. 

With Bubbles, the team realised that there’s a problem in having people not understand the world outside their own bubble. The name came from wanting to burst those bubbles. For example, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, over fifty percent of people in permanent aged care have clinical signs of depression. As a young person you wouldn’t know that. Few people look at government data which often comes in the form of reports (and spreadsheets) that are arduous to read or in formats that are difficult to use. The team instead built a game where you’re asked to guess if a statistic is higher or lower than a given value in your community. By making the player guess like this it makes them realise how out of touch we are.

Although the app was about health care, it could be expanded to crime, Indigenous affairs, or social problems that people know of but don’t know the true statistics.

The application the team build was very much a minimum viable product (MVP). Data was taken from the available data sets but hard coded to demonstrate how the “Bubbles” game would work. GovHack is a time limited challenge and it’s more important to show how the concept would work than to write a lot of code.

The team of six had only two programmers and most had not met until the Friday night. They turned up and formed a team based on the idea that they wanted to make data more interesting. Jaffly is a doctor, but additionally there was a nurse, engineers (for both Qantas and Atlassian), and a designer on the team.

The work to be done was broken up according to what each person could excel at and were interested in. The designer was instrumental in making sure the entry video was up to scratch. Everyone had a role to play such as quality assurance, researching data, and finding the right challenges to enter.

In hackathons, there’s often a lot of drama towards the end. The team worked completely on site, unlike other teams that worked from home. Because Team Team came in every day it helped to keep focus (and the good food helped too).

The first day was spent “ideating”, the second day was working on the project, and towards the end of Saturday work was started on the video. A GovHack entry often comes down to the quality of the video. The focus was on having a video of a working product rather than fully developing the prototype. There was a technical problem with the prototype and there was a late night but still the team got rest and was able to come up with something “mildly polished”.

Jaffly’s number one tip for new GovHackers is to keep an open mind. Sometimes people come in thinking that it’s all about developers and coding and that people with other skills wouldn’t have much to add, but in fact hackathons have evolved to utilise the strengths from a lot of different backgrounds. Leadership skills and project management are very important in hackathons because at the end of the day, you can be the best coder in the world but if you work on the wrong things or don’t finish within the time you’re not going to win.

If you’ve never been to a hackathon, just show up, ask questions, find people similarly passionate as yourself, join a team and HAVE FUN! Everyone has a first time but the fact that you’ve shown up already says a lot.

Jaffly has been to other hackathons but says that GovHack is different as there is a focus on innovation rather than business models which is refreshing. It’s more about figuring out how to use data to improve public services and Australia is lucky because there is a healthy respect for public services. GovHack is a great way to show government what is possible if they’re willing to invest. 

As Jaffly is a medical doctor, I asked him about opportunities he sees for open data in medicine. It’s controversial, as we see with My Health Record data, but modern medicine revolves around data, especially in precision medicine and genomics, which can’t happen without data. Everyone worries about the risk of getting hacked and information being leaked, but the focus should be on de-identification rather than closing off all data. There are risks and there are rewards, but the benefits of being able to use open data for things like making sure that hospitals are getting the right funding and putting services in the right places make it worthwhile.

Data is essential and we need to make it more accessible so that local, home grown, experts can use it to better our systems. Jaffly would like to see more clinicians get more interested in the data side of healthcare. Disparate data can be brought together to gain new insights much as Team Team did in their award winning Bubbles project at GovHack 2018.

Jaffly is confident that attitudes to data will change with generational change. He worries however, that one day, he’ll be the elderly doctor holding on to the ways he’s done things while a new generation pushes even newer technology.

Asked about applications of machine learning (ML) in medicine, Jaffly said “I’m extremely excited about it”. Doctors and technicians who use ML will replace those who don’t. We’ll never replace the “human” element in health care, but for diagnostic pre-screening and prediction ML will help to make medicine more efficient and more safe. There’s a lot of human error still in medication and documentation and we need technology to help us weed all that out. 

Participating in GovHack was a great experience and gave the team an opportunity to put some of what they’ve learned at school and uni into practice to try something new in a limited amount of focused time. “If you’re on the fence about going, you 100 percent should! The support from staff and agency representatives was great”.

Interview for GovHack by Peter Marks

Team: “Team Team”

Winner – Bounty “Intriguing combinations & More than apps and maps”

Project: Bubbles

See the Hackerspace Project here-