Atlanta, GA, April 8, 2010 — Yaw Anokwa, a lead developer on Open Data Kit, a modular set of tools that's helping nonprofits across the world collect data, via mobile phones, on everything from deforestation to human rights violations, has won the fourth annual Antonio Pizzigati Prize for Software in the Public Interest.
The $10,000 Pizzigati Prize honors software developers who, in the spirit of open source computing, are fashioning exceptional applications that aid activists and nonprofits in their efforts to make the world a better place.
Tides — a partner to forward-thinking philanthropists, foundations, activists, and organizations worldwide — hosts the prize selection process.
This year’s Pizzigati Prize winner, Yaw Anokwa, will be accepting the award in Atlanta today at the NTEN 2010 Nonprofit Technology Conference. He’ll be accepting on behalf of a team of University of Washington doctoral students who have crafted, in Open Data Kit, an open source application that unleashes the mobile phone’s social change potential.
The 28-year-old Anokwa and his fellow developers Carl Hartung and Waylon Brunette began their work on Open Data Kit in 2008. Released last spring, the software turns cell phones into tools for collecting data “in the field” and moving that data, with just a few finger swipes, to central Web-based servers or local computers.
With Open Data Kit, grassroots activists can capture and export text, photos, video, audio, barcodes — even location. This imaginative software, observes one of this year’s Pizzigati Prize judges, “empowers anyone with a little technical acumen, anywhere in the world, to collect data in regions where it’s hard to assess needs or document injustices.”
A grassroots researcher outfitted with Open Data Kit can, as one profile of the software has noted, “snap pictures of a deforested area, add the location coordinates, and instantly submit that information to a global environmental database.”
“At the heart of ODK,” notes Pizzigati Prize winner Anokwa, “is a simple idea: make data collection easier.”
Open Data Kit makes that collection easy by letting grassroots groups replace a variety of traditional tools — paper survey forms, cameras, audio recorders, GPS units — with a mobile phone technology that operates independently of any particular mobile phone model.
The Open Data Kit software builds upon Google’s Android, the first comprehensive open-source platform for mobile devices. There have been nearly 2,700 downloads of the free software, and visitors to the Open Data Kit Web site have come from over 140 countries.
Among the current users D-Tree International, the Boston-based nonprofit that nominated Anokwa for the 2010 Pizzigati Prize. D-Tree has put Open Data Kit to work in Tanzania, on a project that’s helping health aides reduce the high rates of serious illness and premature death from preventable and treatable diseases.
Additionally, the University of California's Human Rights Center is using Open Data Kit to investigate war crimes and human rights violations. Over one month-long period, the software enabled Center researchers to conduct and complete some 1,800 in-the-field surveys.
In Brazil, activists from an Amazonian tribe are using Open Data Kit to monitor deforestation and deter illegal logging.
In Kenya, community health workers from the Academic Model Providing Access to Healthcare (AMPATH) are going door-to-door with Open Data Kit-enabled phones to test for HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria and offer personalized health counseling. The software is helping AMPATH reach households with an estimated 2 million people.
Originally from Ghana, Yaw Anokwa first grasped the impact technology can have on social change when he spent six months in a Rwandan village working on a medical record system. “I witnessed,” he says, “how making medical data available electronically could change the fortunes of the very poor.”
Later, back at the University of Washington in Seattle, Anokwa started a group called Change to gather together interested parties from academia, government, industry, and the nonprofit sector “to learn from each other and collaborate on projects.”
“My work with Change has taught me that developers who have spent time ‘on the ground’ collaborating with organizations are more likely to succeed,” notes Anokwa.
That time “on the ground,” he adds, needs to be continuous, not just a series of front-end interviews. Software developers, to succeed at the grassroots level, have to be constantly getting feedback on their work from the people who are using it.
“We spend time in the field with our users,” says Anokwa, “and iteratively build features based on observation.”
These ongoing observations explain why the Open Data Kit interface features, for instance, very large and high contrast buttons.
“Most of our users,” Anokwa notes, “work outdoors, can't afford glasses, and have calloused fingers that don't work well on touch screens.”
Anokwa will be using the $10,000 Pizzigati Prize to deepen Open Data Kit’s interaction with users.
“The beauty of open source is that innovation often happens at the edges of a project and very quickly migrates to the core,” he notes. “We've already seen some examples of this with developers building their own tools, implementers creating training guides, and users suggesting new features.”
“We’ll use the prize award,” says Anokwa, “to support these innovators in our community to ensure Open Data Kit's sustainability.”
The Pizzigati Prize judging panel includes three previous winners of the Pizzigati Prize — Darius Jazayeri, Barry Warsaw, and George Hoteling — and two veteran professionals who have each earned wide respect within the nonprofit computing world, Joseph Mouzon and Erika Bjune.
The deadline for next year’s Pizzigati Prize will be February 1, 2011. Applications forms and background information will be available later this year at the Pizzigati Prize Web site.
About The Pizzigati Prize
The Antonio Pizzigati Prize for Software in the Public Interest is an annual award for open source software developers who add significant value to the nonprofit sector and movements for social change. The Pizzigati Prize honors the brief life of Tony Pizzigati, an early advocate of open source computing.
Born in 1971, Tony spent his college years at MIT, where he worked at the world-famous MIT Media Lab. Tony died in 1995, in an auto accident on his way to work in Silicon Valley.
To learn more about the prize and its judging criteria, visit www.pizzigatiprize.org.
Tides, the Pizzigati Prize selection process host, partners with philanthropists, foundations, activists, and organizations across the country and around the globe to promote economic justice, robust democratic processes, and the opportunity to live in a healthy and sustainable environment where human rights are preserved and protected.
A nonprofit founded in 1976, Tides provides an array of services that amplify the efforts of forward-thinking individuals and organizations. For more information, visit www.tides.org.