Tunisian youth and government tackle service delivery challenges through Open Data and GovTech
Team Leader, Data Use and Literacy Program
Just before midnight, on a night in March 2023, an official from the Tunisian Ministry of Health approached us during a hackathon in Hammamet, a picturesque town in south-eastern Tunisia. Well beyond typical working hours, he sought our assistance in a critical mission. His goal? To streamline access to life-saving mammograms for women over the age of 40 by leveraging public data on mammogram locations and availability across Tunisia.
Breast cancer, a pervasive and deadly threat to Tunisian women, tops the chart as the leading cause of cancer-related deaths for women in the country, with its incidence alarmingly on the rise. The late-night conversation highlighted the urgency of early detection and the countless lives it could potentially save.
Despite the midnight hour, the health official’s energy seemed to have been freshly charged, as if the day had just begun. We and our colleagues had already had a productive 16-hour day, but his enthusiasm was infectious. We discussed the idea of geo-tagging data on the availability of mammograms in hospitals and devising a mechanism to collect and release data on the equipment’s functional status. Rather than confining this data to the government’s open data portal, we proposed the government should extend its reach, distributing this vital information via popular mapping platforms already frequented by potential patients, thus heightening the chances of the information being found.
This late-night request for advice was emblematic of the commitment and camaraderie that characterized Tunisia’s 2023 OpenGovData Hackathon. Spanning three days from March 17 to 19, the hackathon, a joint venture of the World Bank and the Electronic Administration Unit of the Government’s Presidency in Tunisia, aimed to explore how open data could ignite innovation and stimulate problem-solving.
Over the course of the hackathon’s 48 adrenaline-charged hours, 33 dynamic teams comprised of students, startup founders, and young professionals leveraged public data from the data.gov.tn, the government’s open data portal, to create original tools and approaches. The top six teams not only earned recognition and prizes from sponsors but also secured year-long incubation support from the World Bank, providing an invaluable opportunity to further evolve and refine their innovative projects.
The hackathon has been held annually since it was first organized in 2020. Over the years, interest in the hackathon has grown. More than 540 people from around the country applied for this year’s competition, 70 percent of whom were students, mostly aged 18 to 24. With the acceleration of digitization and datafication in virtually every sector in the post-pandemic world, Tunisia is tapping into the creativity and resilience of the country’s talented youth to use its scarce resources more efficiently while improving public services.
A new World Bank toolkit on Smart Data Program, “Toolkit for Task Teams to Mainstream Data in Operations,” outlines a series of steps for designing data-related initiatives that the organizing team used to prepare the hackathon, particularly around identifying service delivery problems to present to the participants, and determining the objectives and scope for the potential projects. Preparation for the hackathon also involved consultations with government officials, civil society organizations, and other key stakeholders from three regions to get their input on the highest priority challenges related to health, education, and social affairs.
The hackathon provided a great opportunity for youth in Tunisia to have agency, collaborate with the government, and meaningfully contribute to improving lives through data-driven ideas. Open data initiatives like this not only demonstrate the value and economic potential of opening up government data to the public but also accelerate the use and reuse of data published by the government, in line with the World Development Report 2021: Data for Better Lives’ core aspiration of unlocking the potential of data for development to improve the lives of all, including the poorest and marginalized.
Editor’s note: The hackathon was supported by Compact with Africa Trust Fund, and the Human Rights, Inclusion and Empowerment Umbrella Trust Fund.