The first time I wrote a civic-minded app, I wanted to change how you could engage with a public dataset. It was a chatbot called Time For Water, back in 2013.
No one asked me to do it, I just saw the WASA pdf and thought, “goosh, I have a cool idea for this”.
Then, in 2016, I built a single-page app to treat with data collected by the Consumer Affairs Division on supermarket shopping prices, I called it “Basket of Open-Data Goods”, because I’m slightly a nerd.
I got my coworkers to join in the fun by building a chatbot called, Hansard Speaks, in 2017. It was a way to let one search the Hansard of Trinidad and Tobago’s Parliament proceedings using natural language. Back then, my colleague Anand Singh, introduced us to a very cool natural language library. Today, if I were rebuilding that, I would almost certainly do it with LangChain over GPT-4, like I did with last year’s national budget.
Nurse Carter was first in 2017, again in 2018, and then used to win a hackathon in 2020. Primarily a chatbot to find out about health services offered at the nation’s Health Facilities.
Last evening, the GoRTT launched an initiative called D’Hub. I was listening at home while my kids were rollerblading in the garage. I was excited, but cautious. Watching the children gave me the right degree of calm. Was this finally a doorway to letting innovators like me into where they talk about innovation as if it’s something real?
Often, doing Civic Hacks like I did, there was not much external benefit. Certainly, as a developer, I would grow. Each solution or idea posed its own challenges. About storage, or complexity or integration. But most of the few hundred users over the years were my friends on social media (God bless, all of you).
Every now and then, I would reach out to some stakeholder, but I could feel that sense of “…ok, but what do you want me to do with this, Irwin?” This would at times leave me flabbergasted. “Implement it, of course”.
But that could get thorny. Almost all of the things I propose involves some kind of digital transformation. And here I was, someone external to most of these civic processes, suggesting changes no one had really contemplated before.
D’Hub seems to be a space for the kind of contemplation I spent a decade doing. I am not interested in just talking about ideas, I like getting my hands codey. Build a proof of concept, let’s circulate around it. That’s the kind of space I’m seeing here. And more. If the PoC is good, there’s a potential for use. If the PoC is good, there’s probably even an opportunity for reward.
By the time the D’Hub announcement was done, I had already signed up. And as if to confirm I was on the right trajectory, the minister of digital transformation himself shared a brief story about what kind of creativity they’re looking so see. He said he was at some CARIRI event, and he saw an solution focused on tourism, looking for a home. Something to do with Tobago, underwater.
He was talking about me.