Closing the knowledge gap in machine learning at the Evidence Synthesis Hackathon

In recent years, a number of technological solutions (software and ‘apps’) have been created to improve resource efficiency, transparency and validity of systematic reviews and maps. However, many of these tools are not open source and cannot be further developed for specific needs. Furthermore, many gaps remain where technology could further assist systematic reviewers.

The University of Johannesburg (UJ) hosted a celebration event of Research 4.0: Africa & Evidence Synthesis. The occasion explored this real-world example of Africa’s role in the 4th Industrial Revolution.

Academics and programmers converged at the Auckland Park Kingsway Campus Library on Wednesday, 05 June 2019, to celebrate the Evidence Synthesis Hackathon 2019, which recently took place in Australia.

Hosted by the Africa Centre of Evidence (ACE) at the University of Johannesburg (UJ), the event showcased the exciting opportunity presented by the Evidence Synthesis Hackathon for traditional software developers and researchers to understand each other’s’ needs and develop new tools that make it easier to create, refine, and disseminate systematic reviews and other evidence synthesis products. Evidence synthesis is the process of converting scientific outputs such as articles and reports into usable evidence to inform management or policy.

Three African delegates were sponsored by the University to participate in the international Evidence Synthesis Hackathon, and will share their experiences of the Hackathon. The event showcased a live demonstration of a tool being developed for use in systematic review work.

“The idea behind the hackathon was for researchers and programmers to come together and build tools to speed up the process for future evidence synthesis research. Individuals worked in teams to create a working software prototypes, applications or products that address a specific project or need,” said Dr Neal Haddaway, one of the founders of the Evidence Synthesis Hackathon.

Professor Ruth Stewart, Director of the Africa Centre for Evidence at the University of Johannesburg, added: “Beyond the value of sharing skills, the Evidence Synthesis Hackathon supports relationship-building between researchers and technical specialists to tackle problems within the research context. This interaction ensures that we break down the silos that traditionally separate us and help us move into the 4th Industrial Revolution together.”

By bringing together experienced coders, researchers, and programmers, the Evidence Synthesis Hackathon aimed to provide technological solutions at various stages of the systematic review or evidence map process to harness machine learning to transform how evidence synthesis is done.


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