Data journalism problems in Europe: change the culture, not the technology

22 April 2015

Last week, I attended the International Journalism Festival in Perugia. It was beautiful, and in many ways, surprising.

With my usual work, I spend most of my time thinking about how civil society and journalists can use data more effectively in their work, and the problems that we come up against are things like:

  • Not having enough data (eg. it doesn’t exist, it’s not online, no access to it)
  • Not having access to the right technologies (tools behind a paywall, open source tools might not do the trick)
  • Not having good enough access to internet, or no access at all - or, audiences having low levels of connectivity
  • Being in restrictive political environments with low levels of press freedom
  • Keeping safe online

But in Perugia, the problems mentioned were largely very different. The hurdles facing data journalism here aren’t related to technology, they’re related to culture.

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Telling the story of the Syrian conflict; digital storytelling methods

07 April 2015

The Syrian conflict is one of the worst tragedies of our time, and now, unlike during many tragedies of years gone by, now we have new ways of telling those stories in real time, reaching people who might be geographically far away, but who could (perhaps with the right story) be brought ever closer. Over the past couple of years, organisations, institutions and individuals have used various digital strategies to tell Syria’s story.

As Susan Sontag said, images transfix, and anaesthetize. I wonder though; could digital storytelling methods cause a similar ‘fatigue’? Though some of the examples here are now fairly new and innovative strategies, will they at a point become so regular that they don’t evoke any emotions within the viewer at all?

Here are a few examples I’ve come across of interesting campaigns and stories around the Syrian conflict, all of which evoked strong emotions for me.

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Launching Collusion, our new podcast on power and technology

07 April 2015

I’m very excited to announce that together with Luiza Prado, I’ll be co-hosting a new monthly podcast exploring the relationship between power and technology. We’ve explained a little why we’re doing the podcast, and what we hope it will be, in this (very short!) introduction:

We’ll be tweeting from @Collusion_, and putting episodes up on http://soundcloud.com/collusion, together with links to sources and further material on the topic that we find, and the first full episode will be coming up in late April.

Get in touch if you’ve got ideas for what we should be reading or looking into!

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Assessing Impact in data trainings: what we need to do better

24 March 2015

Last week, I took part in a workshop discussing “Impact Assessment for Data training”, with a number of different practitioners working on some aspect of improving data literacy in their communities.

From a personal perspective, it was fascinating to see that the priorities of people there were largely similar: everyone was working (in some way) on improving data skills among different groups of people who were well placed to then use those skills to push for social change. In some countries, the target group for this was university students; in others, the focus was activists, or young people, but the overall aim was the same; to empower them with the skills they need to achieve their own goals, better.

An interesting exercise asked us to define what we actually meant by ‘impact assessment’ - we realised that for many of us, it was a way to work out whether the interventions we were leading, were having a positive or negative effect on the communities we’re working with. Most of the time, though, these impact assessments act as feedback to donors for the said activity - so I do wonder what it would take, or how often it comes about, that an impact assessment carried out internally actually reveals anything but a positive outcome.

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Claiming back digital rights through play and subversion

15 March 2015

I’ve noticed two somewhat distinct schools of thought, or action, around asserting digital rights online. One, calling for people to practise better digital security online; raising awareness of privacy-protecting ways to browse the internet, promoting alternatives to big, privacy-invasive corporations, to name just a few tactics.

The other: encouraging playfulness, and subversion of the roles that those corporations and governments are putting internet users in. Instead of hiding; revealing. Instead of blocking; pushing. Instead of circumventing; confronting.

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What I learned at the Art and Feminism Wikipedia editathon

08 March 2015

This weekend was the Art and Feminism Wikipedia Editathon- a campaign to improve coverage of women and the arts on Wikipedia.

I joined the Berlin group today, and I did two main things: created a page for the feminist artist Dilara Begum Jolly, whose work looks at social injustices in Bangladesh and globally, focusing on the role of women; and I improved the page of Kanak Chanpa Chakma, a Bengali artist who focuses on the lives of ethnic minorities in Bangladesh.

I found both of them via this pretty enormous page, Women Artists of Bangladesh. I wasn’t sure where to start on cleaning it up purely because it is so unwieldy - that is to say, long, without many references or structure, and with a very unusual style of writing. So, I focused on the two of them instead.

It is a lot more rewarding than I had thought to create a page and to see the improvements on Kanak Chanpa Chakma’s page, too! To my surprise, just 4 hours after creating Dilara Begum Jolly’s page, it’s now in the top 5 hits when you search for her name on Google, too.

Here are some things I learned today:

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Responsible Data in Humanitarian Response: my takeaways

06 March 2015

The Responsible Data in Humanitarian Response meeting held last week in The Hague gave me a lot of food for thought; below, I’ve tried to summarise what my main learnings from the two days were.

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Responsible Data in the IATI process

02 March 2015

Last week, I joined the Responsible Data for Humanitarian Response meeting in The Hague, where I had the pleasure of moderating a session on civic data streams, as well as talking about the International Aid Transparency Initiative process, together with Roderick Besseling of Cordaid. Roderick talked more about the specifics of using IATI within Cordaid, and it was really impressive to see how they are actually using internally the data they publish to IATI - while I talked about IATI data from a more general perspective.

I’m planning to write up the notes from the discussion very soon, but in the meantime, here are the slides I used for the discussion.

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Data in international development: a look at the (potential) dark side of ICT4D

22 February 2015

Yesterday, I gave a talk at the Stiftung Neue Verantwortung here in Berlin, about the work I’ve been doing looking into how data is being used in international development. I adapted a presentation I did together with Becky Kazansky at last year’s re:publica, which you can see online here, where we talked about the unintended consequences of increased uses of technology in development.

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Podcasts: is it time for #listentowomen2015 ?

15 February 2015

This post is being updated with more links/corrections on an ongoing basis! To see older versions, check the Github repo

A few weeks ago, I asked online via Twitter, and offline to friends of mine - what’s your favourite podcast?

I got these responses:

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