Understanding Diplomacy through Data

In May, over one hundred students competed in the student-led hackathon, MakeSPP, in Jersey City, New Jersey. Samay Shamdasani, along with his co-organizers, Shashwat Punjani, Nathan Blumenfeld, Jonas Eaton, Thomas Narramore, Dan Ambrosio, Owen Kealey, and Tyler Greene organized the hackathon. Hackathons are collaborative, competitive events where computer programmers are provided raw data or project prompts from a variety of topics that they turn into usable prototypes in a limited amount of time. At the end of the event, judges determine a winning project based on technological and creative achievement. At MakeSPP, the United States Diplomacy Center submitted topics for the competitors that focused on the growth of American diplomatic relations. Five student groups selected the Diplomacy Center for their data visualization projects, with incredible results. In eight short hours, students applied their coding skills to State Department data to produce ventures ranging from creative analysis to Virtual Reality projects. Kelsey Cvach of the Diplomacy Center served as judge and selected three winners.

The first winner was Jeffrey Yu, who built a functional interactive that traced the exchange of diplomats over time. For the prototype, he focused on 1817, the first year the data was available, 1940, as World War II was beginning, and 2006, a year in modern time. Says Yu, “As someone just starting to learn about data visualization, I hope to continue developing programs that will help the world understand important data representing foreign affairs and become a citizen diplomat myself.”

The next winning team used the same exchange of data and applied the project not only to the United States diplomatic relationships but included the relationships other countries have with each other around the world. The team, consisting of Kashyap Murali, Jinal Shah, Aditya Patil, and Krishnan Ram, described their experience: “We were excited after reading the prompt, but we grew more passionate about the project after exploring the numerous opportunities for insights provided by the data. Both the people and the government can use these insights to better communicate and understand their diplomatic landscape.”

The final winning team, led by Abhinav Dusi, built a prototype of an interactive map that attempted to demonstrate the growth of U.S. missions since the United States founding. They used the State Department website to pinpoint and compile establishment of diplomatic relationship dates and produced a timeline interactive map which showed U.S. embassies appearing worldwide over time. They went above and beyond the project prompt, incorporating photos of embassies and descriptions from the State Department website.

The remarkable response demonstrates a passion and excitement from tech-inclined students to apply their talents to diplomacy and international insight. The United States Diplomacy Center has invited these distinguished students to participate in its first-ever hackathon, which will take place at the Diplomacy Center Pavilion and World Resources Institute offices September 21st and 22nd. Interested participants should register through ImpactHack.devpost.com. Those interesting in volunteering or sponsoring the Diplomacy Center’s hackathon should contact Kelsey Cvach directly at cvachkl@america.gov.

Date: 07/10/2018 Description: Jeffery Yu, pictured, used the D3.js JavaScript library to create a website that visualizes US diplomatic representation in foreign countries through time on a world map. He believes such projects can ''can help government officials and the general public better comprehend such important information, and thereby making more informed and logical decisions.'' - State Dept Image
Jeffery Yu, pictured, used the D3.js JavaScript library to create a website that visualizes US diplomatic representation in foreign countries through time on a world map. He believes such projects can ''can help government officials and the general public better comprehend such important information, and thereby making more informed and logical decisions.''
Date: 07/10/2018 Description: This team demonstrates applying machine learning to diplomacy-related data through their project, the Diplomatic Relationship Predictor. Says the team, ''Both the people and the government can use these insights to better communicate and understand their diplomatic landscape.'' - State Dept Image
This team demonstrates applying machine learning to diplomacy-related data through their project, the Diplomatic Relationship Predictor. Says the team, ''Both the people and the government can use these insights to better communicate and understand their diplomatic landscape.''
Date: 07/10/2018 Description: This is a screenshot from one of the MakeSPP team's projects. It is a prototype of an interactive map that tracks the existence of US embassies over time. The data was grabbed using Python from the State Department website. - State Dept Image
This is a screenshot from one of the MakeSPP team's projects. It is a prototype of an interactive map that tracks the existence of US embassies over time. The data was grabbed using Python from the State Department website.
Date: 07/10/2018 Description: Kashyap Murali, Jinal Shah, Aditya Patil, and Krishnan Ram were on one of the winning teams. Says Krishnan, ''Tech fluency is extremely important for the diplomacy of the future. With the increasing amounts of data, tech fluency can help find new insights into how countries behave diplomatically and/or politically.'' - State Dept Image
 Kashyap Murali, Jinal Shah, Aditya Patil, and Krishnan Ram were on one of the winning teams. Says Krishnan, ''Tech fluency is extremely important for the diplomacy of the future. With the increasing amounts of data, tech fluency can help find new insights into how countries behave diplomatically and/or politically.''
Date: 07/10/2018 Description: Samay is the student organizer of Makespp, a New Jersey-based hackathon. He coordinated with the Diplomacy Center to bring in U.S. diplomacy related projects. He also runs a web-based coding camp, pictured here.  - State Dept Image
 Samay Shamdasani is the student organizer of Makespp, a New Jersey-based hackathon. He coordinated with the Diplomacy Center to bring in U.S. diplomacy related projects. He also runs a web-based coding camp.
Date: 07/10/2018 Description: This team is planning to attend the Diplomacy Center's hackathon in September 2018, in Washington D.C. Says Jinal Shah, ''I see myself working in the future with the Department of State to integrate important technologies such as Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence, which greatly benefit how people and countries work together.'' - State Dept Image
This team is planning to attend the Diplomacy Center's hackathon in September 2018, in Washington D.C. Says Jinal Shah, ''I see myself working in the future with the Department of State to integrate important technologies such as Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence, which greatly benefit how people and countries work together.''