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R number modelling hackathon


Thursday 29 April – Tuesday 4 May

As part of the fortnight event series “Actuarial Innovation in the Covid-19 Era” we invite you to take part in our R number modelling hackathon. If you are interested in modelling of the Covid-19 pandemic this is your chance! We welcome teams, no matter what your experience is, to take part in this quick-paced challenge.

Hackathon overview

The exact problem statement will be delivered to contestants at the start of the hackathon. The general area of the problem will be an extension of the R analysis to accommodate emerging issues, in a similar way that the ARG October bulletin developed additional insights that could have further shaped public understanding and policy. 


Early on in the pandemic, the world got to understand the concept of the R value of a pandemic development. This is the number of people that each infected person infects. An R of less than 1 means that over time the pandemic goes away, a number above 1 means that more and more people are infected over time. This has become a common number used by the scientists and government to describe the current situation and therefore the reason for lockdown and social distancing action. Indeed COVID-19 can be compared to other diseases and pandemics using this R number. In the UK the ONS publishes data weekly on an estimate of the R number and it is widely reported.

But actually the R number is too simplistic – should you look at the R number for a region or country or continent; how do you calculate the R number in real time; what differences does an R number mask that would be more or less important for policy makers?

The Actuaries Response Group (ARG) has been at the forefront of examining and explaining the issues as they arise. But they also highlight the issues that are still to come, or worse, are missing some crucial pieces. In their bulletin of 18 October 2020, they analysed the issue of superspreaders. In this analysis they questioned the R number metric and described circumstances in which it is more or less useless as a diagnostic metric or policy shaping metric.

It is this type of issue that the hackathon will address. What additional insight is needed on key items that are discussed in public, and used by government to make decisions? The actual problem will relate to the R number, but will be released in accordance with the timeline below and based on topics relevant at the time.

The activity

Working in small teams, you will need to perform the following activities:

  1. Analyse relevant data: for the R number evaluation this would be UK ONS COVID-19 R development reports and their underlying SARS-COV2 prevalence studies, but you could use alternative data, or supplement this data if you choose to.
  2. Performance analysis: build models and develop analytical tools to understand the drivers of current developments and project these into the future
  3. Draw conclusions: provide results and conclusions to prove or disprove a current hypothesis on what is happening and what may happen next
  4. Communicate the results: report to a knowledgeable non-actuarial audience

The exact problem statement will be delivered to contestants at the start of the hackathon. 

Find out more about the hackathon


How to get involved

Submit your team via the registration form.

You will receive details of the question at 09:00 (BST/UTC+1) on Thursday 29 April.

Your team will need to collaborate, analyse data and drawn conclusions to form two outputs:

  1. Links to your data set with instructions and any analysis code 
  2. A summary paper describing data analysis and conclusions (3-4 pages)

Since teams will have a limited time period to complete this task, being succinct in your outputs will be extremely important. The ARG bulletin provides a good example of the output the panel will be expecting. Outputs (conclusions, copies of the model, and instructions on how to run, data used etc) will need to be uploaded to Egress to be reviewed by our judging panel. Whilst Egress is not a public platform, you should release output as though you were sharing to a public platform such as when ARG released their report.

Teams will need to submit their responses by 23:59 (BST/UTC+1) on Tuesday 4 May.

Responses will be reviewed by a panel of ICAT coordinators, ARG and IFoA members and a winning team will be decided.

Winner recognition

Winners will be announced on the IFoA website and may be invited to present their findings at a future event.

Hackathon rules

In participating in this challenge, you agree to the following:

  1. The hackathon is open to anyone aged 16 or over, excluding employees of the IFoA and their families.
  2. Entries are limited to one submission per team.
  3. At least one member of the team is an IFoA or affiliate member.
  4. The IFoA reserves all rights to disqualify you if your conduct is contrary to the spirit or intention of the challenge.
  5. The panel will choose the winning team from all, eligible entries received.  The decision of the panel is final and no further correspondence will be entered into.
  6. By submitting an entry you confirm that the entry is your own original creation.  You agree by your entry submission that the IFoA can use your idea, findings or methodology as it considers appropriate for the use of the whole profession and you further agree that the IFoA may reproduce the entry for publicity in relation to this and/or other promotions or initiatives.
  7. You will not use any third party material, data or information which you do not have authority to freely use without limitation and will not breach the intellectual property rights of any third party in your participation.
  8. No entries will be returned.

Sign up now!

Register your team 

Need help finding a team?

If you would like to get involved but don’t have a team please contact Katy Stephenson. We may be able to connect you with other individuals also interested in the hackathon.

Good luck!

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