Coding for a better world

Markus Krautmacher and Alexander Hoset, User Experience (UX) experts from Telenor Norway, took part in the Red Cross codeathon to build a global system for forecasting epidemics.

Written: Oct 2017

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From code work to work field

At the Red Cross offices in Oslo white Red Cross tents, with their familiar logo, were erected along with green camp beds. Fifty techies from different disciplines spent the weekend helping the Red Cross.

This is the first time the Red Cross has organised a codeathon. The goal is to encourage people with genuine professional skills to volunteer their time. Within 48 hours, coders made good progress on developing a version 2.0 of a community-based surveillance system (CBS) which will be available to Red Cross volunteers in the field all over the world.

“This is about providing local Red Cross volunteers with a system where they can use their smartphones to send in information on different symptoms of diseases such as Cholera, Ebola etc. This is fed into a program which analyses the data and generates automatic alerts about outbreaks.This makes it easier for the Red Cross and local authorities to coordinate their resources and combat outbreaks of disease,” says CBS coordinator, Anine Kongelf of the Red Cross.

Open source

The system is written in the GITHUB program, an open-source system which everyone can access and which one can subsequently log into and change.

“We invite anyone with the skills to join us in building this system. The world needs it, we in the Red Cross need it. We respond to 30 epidemics per year. The ongoing refugee crisis in Bangladesh is a current example of the value of CBS. We have eight countries where they’d happily start using the system tomorrow. What we achieve during this weekend will be tested by some of our African national associations as early as November,” confirms Kongelf.


Markus Krautmacher and Alexander Hoset, User Experience (UX) experts from Telenor Norway, helped the Red Cross define the requirements for the service.

They prepared a Glossary which describes the roles that the system should have. This will be communicated in a language used by the Red Cross. The coders could not make any progress before these requirements were defined. They have also prepared user stories, so that the Red Cross always has an overview of the aim of the service.

Being that the system is open-source, it is a continuous work in progress. In a few weeks time this type of framework will be even more so useful as more endeavors will be under way between the Red Cross and stakeholders.