School of Data Goes to MozFest 2014 ! – Part 2

yuandra - October 31, 2014 in Data Expeditions, Events

Part 2 of our MozFest recap: check out the first blog post for our Day 1 adventures…

Third Day Recap – Second School of Data Session!

After our first successful session, the School of Data team went in excitedly for the second session on Day 3! The floors were packed in the morning because the organizers made the surprising decision of giving (we think everyone) who attended the Mozilla Festival a Firefox OS Flame phone. A sweet phone, which caused long queues in the Ravensbourne building.

With the sessions now in full steam, the second School of Data session was scheduled in the afternoon, and we brought a familiar School of Data format: that is, the data expedition! The theme for today session is “Analysing Data Using Spreadsheets”, and we went ahead, data sherpa style!

The theme chosen for this data expedition session was all about the re-enacting the Titanic. We provided data on the passengers of the Titanic, and from there we tried to work the data through the familiar School of Data data pipeline. We split the participants into two groups based on the operating system that they use, and then we started hacking! We started by first using a lot of post it notes to try finding questions that we could answer using the data, and after that we used spreadsheet tools such as Excel to find some answers, and last but not least, visualize those answers.

We had an interesting mix of participants in this session, with some them having already worked with spreadsheets a lot, which led to the wonderful situation where participants were teaching with other about various things such as pivot table techniques, formulae, and even the super useful but hard to notice text to column button in Excel (and we also learn new things too) – as following the collaborative learning spirit of Mozilla Festival.

In the end, this is what we made : A visualization of titanic, showing the survival rate of the passengers, separated by gender and passenger class. Really nice expedition :)

School Of Data @ Mozilla Festival London

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School of Data Goes to MozFest 2014 ! – Part 1

yuandra - October 31, 2014 in Events

It’s October, which means it’s time for Mozilla Festival! The annual event that is hosted by the Mozilla Foundation is now in its 5th year, and it just keeps getting bigger. The festival took place at Ravensbourne College in London on 24-26 October 2014. Occupying the whole 9 floors of the Ravensbourne building, and with 11 tracks to choose from, the festival this year attracted more than 1600 educators, collaborators, developers, and enthusiasts working towards an open and creative web. This year, the Mozilla Foundation generously supported the School of Data team to conduct sessions regarding data as part of the Science and the Open Web track, which were “Dealing With Messy Data” & “Analyzing Data Using Spreadsheets”. Without giving any too many spoilers away, it was a blast!

First Day Recap – Opening Science Fair

The first day of MozFest was the opening night with the science fair coming in with a full entourage. There was an airblimp, digital guitar, particle shooter and much more! Of course, we had a school of data table at the fair (shown below), together with the Mozilla Science track section and together with the very nice people from the OpenScience.

School Of Data @ Mozilla Festival London

There was a lot of excitement that night, and a lot of people were asking around about the School of Data, and expressed interest in learning data related skills. The team answered all the questions excitedly, and also gave information about School of Data activities including the School of Data fellowship programme, which has taken the School of Data to a whole new international level, with 12 of us fellows operating internationally.

Second Day Recap – First School of Data Session!

The second day of the Mozilla Festival (which is actually the first “main” session day) started with opening talks. Then, the sessions started in earnest, and we held our first School of Data session at the Mozilla Festival! Our session was in the science track on the 7th floor, and to start with, we did a session titled “Dealing with Messy Data”.

School Of Data @ Mozilla Festival London

As with the title said, this session is all about messy data. We had about 30 participants in this session, and after some group exercises, we asked questions to the participants, such as: if data were an animal, what kind of animal would it be? A lot of interesting answers came up, including one saying that data was like a mythical beast. Next, we split the participants up into groups, and started hacking on messy data.

First we gave them a dataset (a messy one of course), a lot of post-its, and we gave them time to see what it is that made the data messy. After a lot of post it stacks later, we finally gathered around and made this very nice wall of post it full of messy data elements.

School Of Data @ Mozilla Festival London

With the messy data element properly explained, it was then time to get hands on, technical style with the messy data! True to MozFest collaborative spirit, we got a lot of help from various people such as from Software Carpentry & ROpenScience, so we had about 6 tables, each of which were focusing on a specific technique such as Open Refine, R, Regular Expression, and Python. It was really great and we learned a lot – we hope our participants did too!

But this was just the start of the School of Data team adventure in MozFest;stay tuned for the report of our second session, Analyzing Data via Spreadsheets, in part 2!

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Catch us if you Can: The #OpenData party moves to Calabar!

olubabayemi - October 28, 2014 in Events

So what’s the fuss about this #Opendata party in the South South of Nigeria – It will be held in one of the cleanest city in AfricaCalabar, and will be hosted in a state that has the most comforting tourist attraction in West Africa – the Obudu Mountain Resort! If you think there is another like it in the region, please comment below ;) and one other thing about Calabar is the attributes to their women, and just for clarification – Calabar remains the capital city of Cross River State.

Right on time at the popular Mirage Hotel on October 15, 2014 was the Open data party that had 15 participants from different NGOs, citizens and this time we had some government officials – thus making it interesting. Whenever you have these three groups locked on a round table – questions like: why didn’t you make the data available, why didn’t  you reply our FOIA, didn’t we make funding available for you to monitor, what happened to all the international aid you get, all come up, and as a facilitator – you are lost!

Break out session at the Open Data Party in Calabar

Break out session at the Open Data Party in Calabar

With my experience teaching data with NGOs, journalists and citizens, it is still clear that few of the practitioners know where even the little data available is hidden online. “It is appalling that we all here don’t know where the federal government budget is being published” affirmed Onoche Mokwunye. I get this answer often in all my sessions, which makes us conclude at times that the simple skill of finding data (secondary) itself and what their interest was in data, remains important.

In trying to figure out what kind of data they were interested in 40% of the participants were interested in budget data of the country; 30% were interested in contract data  (in essence, the issue of money, and how it’s been used is important), while the remaining 30% was shared amongst election data, environmental data, infrastructure data, and transport data (which seems not to be available). Going forward did they really know where to find this data? KNOW! Well, it will be important to state that the Nigerian government has recently focused on some open data initiatives, even though it is not as if these portals make data available in machine readable format.

See what kind of data our participants were interested in

See what kind of data our participants were interested in

One may think, since we wouldn’t know where to find, or how to get the data, analyzing data might be a great challenge, of course NO! This group had great knowledge of diving into excel spreadsheets – maybe I knew only one way of handling some task before, now I learnt two more ways – that was the most interesting part of this data party! So what else, how do we present this datasets using several visualizations and infographic. “I have seen several colourful visualizations (online) that people in our communities cannot relate with, as such we still need to break it down in the language they will understand (offline) – maybe that’s an added task for us” explained Benny from AfterSchool Peer Mentoring Project

Just before the end of the sessions, participants already concluded to have another 2-day Open Data Party,, while they declared having step down training in their own communities. When our Open Data party ends within 8 hours, participants are at times heartbroken! “Are we going to continue tomorrow, I seem to be an information and skill overload in a short time” – mentioned Ndoma Mayor in a phone call with me. Truly, does our party end in 8 hours? What happens to the” party” behind Open data – we always rock the club, after all, we are in Calabar, where the female become goddess at night! And if you want to know where our next open data party will be happening: most definitely – Abuja, No thanks to Connected Development [CODE] and Indigo Trust UK

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Safety for Civil Society Organizers

marielgm - October 17, 2014 in charity data

The engine room

This post was written by Alix Dunn, the co-founder and creative lead at the engine room. The engine room investigates and supports the use of technology in advocacy.

Last week, School of Data asked us to put together a few tips for civil society organizations who want to improve their security practices and keep their communities and operations safe. This post is for organizations who are trying to wrap their heads around how to begin to address information security risks.


To be clear, the steps an organization can and should take are as diverse as the contexts they work in. If you are a team fighting corruption in an authoritarian state, have poor internet connectivity, face frequent power cuts, and run large scale data projects, you will obviously have different security needs than a team fighting to increase the amount of open data made available to constituents in a Global North country. Security risks and ‘mitigation tactics’ (read: ways to protect yourself) concern all aspects of work: staff size, organizational resources, office infrastructure, technical know-how of staff, types of services the team uses, current practices, past threats and attacks, and more.


To address security concerns it is smart and often necessary to have the support of an experienced security trainer who can help you determine the best course of action. If you are worried about your security, please contact a support organization that you have a relationship with and ask them to point you to a security support organization. But here are a few general tips for starting to understand your security situation.


  1. Understand what you have. This might seem obvious, but lots of organizations and teams collect so much information (emails, documents, financial information, spreadsheets, publications, mailing lists, etc.) that often times they don’t know what information they have. Try making as exhaustive a list as you can (and don’t forget physical documents!). Work through the list, and tag by sensitivity (1 being the least sensitive, 5 being super top secret), and importance for operations (1 being we could easily work without it, 5 if we lost it we’d be lost ourselves). With this list, you have a better understanding of what you have. Also remember, that this list is also a piece of information that is both sensitive and important for operations!
  2. Protect what you have from loss and unauthorized use. For things that are most sensitive, precautions should be taken to protect the information. Protecting information means limiting access to only people in the organization that need it, and putting systems in place so that the information cannot be easily accessed by those who are not granted permission. If information is rated as highly important for operations, make sure it is backed up regularly and that the backups are not stored in the same environment (and perhaps not even in the same country) as the originals.
  3. Only collect and save what you need to. If something is highly sensitive and not important for the organization, then you might have a problem collecting too much information that you don’t need. Use that information (about how you are collecting extra information that can only do you harm) to encourage more responsible data collection. If you don’t need it, don’t collect it. And if you already collected it and don’t need it, get rid of it. Got a list of names and personally identifiable information about participants from a workshop you did three years ago? Get rid of it!
  4. Promote individual learning within the organization. The security practice of each member of the organization affects the team as a whole. Provide opportunities and share information about improving security practices in the way that each individual uses digital tools and information. If you have regular learning opportunities for your team, make sure that security training is on offer. For example, if someone is accessing email related to sensitive work on their phone, provide guidance and training on how to make sure the information and the phone are protected.
  5. Identify people in your organization as future security heroes. Learning about, and pushing for, better security practices isn’t for everyone. Find people who are keen to learn more about how to protect information and encourage better security practices for the team. Provide professional development opportunities for them and once their skills are developed, trust them when they say something is important.


Some resources to check out if you want to read more about practical steps:




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Women’s Rights Campaigning: Info-Activism Toolkit

marielgm - October 15, 2014 in Infoskills


Tactical Tech

This post was written by Lisa Gutermuth, a project coordinator at Tactical Tech in Berlin. Currently she is working producing the Women’s Rights Campaigning: Info-Activism Toolkit. She has previously focused on land grabbing, crowdmapping, and e-waste for different projects at Tactical Tech and with affiliated organisations.

Tactical Tech is an organisation working to advance the skills, tools and techniques of rights advocates, empowering them to use information and communications to help marginalised communities understand and effect progressive social, environmental and political change.

Trying to figure out how to present evidence of violence in a creative way? A campaign by the India-based Blank Noise project offers us an example of how this can be done.

In most parts of the world, a widely-used tactic to discredit women victims of violence is to accuse them of ‘asking for it’ by dressing provocatively. Blank Noise started a campaign called ‘I Never Ask For It’, in which women who had experienced street based sexual harassment were asked to send in photos of the garments that they were wearing when they experienced the harassment. Unsurprisingly, the database of photos was mostly comprised of pictures of school uniforms, burqas, traditional salwar kameez, saris, and jeans and so on: nothing provocative about any of this. These images highlight the very personal side of harassment, while simultaneously creating an understanding among women that they are not alone, as well as working toward wider debate about these kinds of events.




This is one of the examples found in the Women’s Rights Campaigning: Info-Activism Toolkit developed by Tactical Tech.

The toolkit is created for women’s rights activists, advocates, NGOs and community-based organisations who want to use technology tools and practices in their campaigning. The guide was developed as part of CREA‘s New Voices / New Leaders: Women Building Peace and Reshaping Democracy project, which aims to promote security by combating violence against women and enhancing the civil engagement of women in the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.




This guide is also a good example of an older project being ‘upcycled’ into something new, updated and relevant to a specific community. The original guides we produced were called Message in-a-Box and Mobiles in-a-Box. CREA, a women’s rights organisation in India, initially approached us to update and customise our toolkits for women’s rights communities.

This gave us a chance to think about a structure and format that would work, and respond to the actual context of how specific communities think about campaigning. Each of the categories included in the guide was carefully considered in the development stages of the project, both because there was a focused community for whom it was being created, and because we had regular feedback from our local partner organisations.

The next step was translating the guide into Hindi, Bengali, Kiswahili, and Arabic. At Tactical Tech we make an effort to integrate localisation into our materials by providing options and resources for translations, as this enables communities to identify more closely with the contents and to read and use it at a more in-depth level. This is also why having the materials printed (i.e. offline) was such an important part of the project, as the communities that need the entry point to learning about the positive use of digital tools are often those most far away from them.

Which brings us to the latest development: the printed toolkits are just off the press! The guide has been printed as a set of four booklets: ‘Basics,’ ‘Grab Attention,’ ‘Tell a Story,’ and ‘Inspire Action,’ representing different strategic themes to use in creating a campaign. The next phase will be distribution – sign up to Tactical Tech’s monthly magazine In the Loop  for updates!



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Tool Review: WebScraper

nisha - October 13, 2014 in Community, HowTo, Resources

Crosspost from

Usually when I have any scraping to do I ask Thej  if he can do it and then take a nap. However, Thej is on vacation so I was stuck either waiting for him to come back or I could try to do it myself. It was basic text, not much html, no images, and a few pages, so I went for it with some non coder tools.

I checked the School of Data scraping section for some tools and they have a nice little section on using browser based scraping tools. I did a chrome store search and came across WebScraper.

I glanced through the video sort of paying attention got the gist of it and started to play with the tool.  It took awhile for me to figure out.  I highly recommend very carefully going through the tutorials.  The videos take you through the process but are not very clear for complete newbies like me so it took a few views to understand the hierarchy concept and how to adapt their example to the site I was scraping.

I got the hang of doing one page and then figuring out how to tell it to go to another page, again I had to spend quite a bit of time rewatching the tutorial. At the end of the day I got the data in neat columns in CSV without too much trouble.  I would recommend WebScraper for people who want to do some basic scraping.

It is as visual as you can get though the terminology is still very technical.   You have to do into the developer tools folder which can feel intimidating but ultimately satisfying in the end.

Though I’ll probably still call Thej.

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Mapping Skillshare with Codrina

Heather Leson - October 10, 2014 in Community, Events, Geocoding, HowTo, Mapping, School_Of_Data

Why maps are useful visualization tools? What doesn’t work with maps? Today we hosted a School of Data skillshare with Codrina Ilie, School of data Fellow.

Codrina Ilie shares perspectives on building a map project

What makes a good map? How can perspective, assumptions and even colour change the quality of the map? This is a one-hour video skillshare to learn all about map making from our School of Data fellow:

Learn some basic mapping skills with slides

Codrina prepared these slides with some extensive notes and resources. We hope that it helps you on your map journey.

Hand drawn map


(Note: the hand drawn map was created at School of Data Summer Camp. Photo by Heather Leson CCBY)

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Breaking the Knowledge Barrier: The #OpenData Party in Northern Nigeria

olubabayemi - October 1, 2014 in Community, Data Expeditions, Data for CSOs, Events, Follow the Money, Geocoding, Mapping, Spreadsheets, Storytelling, Uncategorized, Visualisation

If the only news you have been watching or listening to about Northern Nigeria is of the Boko Haram violence in that region of Nigeria, then you need to know that other news exist, like the non-government organizations and media, that are interested in using the state and federal government budget data in monitoring service delivery, and making sure funds promised by government reach the community it was meant for.

This time around, the #OpenData party moved from the Nigeria Capital – Abuja to Gusau, Zamfara and was held at the Zamfara Zakat and Endowment Board Hall between Thursday, 25 and Friday, 26, 2014. With 40 participant all set for this budget data expedition, participants included the state Budget Monitoring Group (A coalition of NGOs in Zamfara) coordinated by the DFID (Development for International Development) State Accountability and Voice Initiative (SAVI),other international NGOs such as Society for Family Health (SFH), Save the Children, amongst others.


Group picture of participants at the #OpenData Party in Zamfara

But how do you teach data and its use in a less-technology savvy region? We had to de-mystify teaching data to this community, by engaging in traditional visualization and scraping – which means the use of paper artworks in visualizing the data we already made available on the Education Budget Tracker. “I never believed we could visualize the education budget data of the federal government as easy as what was on the wall” exclaimed Ahmed Ibrahim of SAVI


Visualization of the Education Budget for Federal Schools in Zamfara

As budgets have become a holy grail especially with state government in Nigeria, of most importance to the participants on the first day, was how to find budget data, and processes involved in tracking if services were really delivered, as promised in the budget. Finding the budget data of the state has been a little bit hectic, but with much advocacy, the government has been able to release dataset on the education and health sector. So what have been the challenges of the NGOs in tracking or using this data, as they have been engaged in budget tracking for a while now?

Challenges of Budget Tracking Highlighted by participants

Challenges of Budget Tracking Highlighted by participants

“Well, it is important to note that getting the government to release the data took us some time and rigorous advocacy, added to the fact that we ourselves needed training on analysis, and telling stories out of the budget data” explained Joels Terks Abaver of the Christian Association of Non Indigenes. During one of the break out session, access to budget information and training on how to use this budget data became a prominent challenge in the resolution of the several groups.

The second day took participants through the data pipelines, while running an expedition on the available education and health sector budget data that was presented on the first day. Alas! We found out a big challenge on this budget data – it was not location specific! How does one track a budget data that does not answer the question of where? When involved in budget tracking, it is important to have a description data that states where exactly the funds will go. An example is Construction of Borehole water pump in Kaura Namoda LGA Primary School, or we include the budget of Kaura Namoda LGA Primary School as a subtitle in the budget document.

Taking participants through the data pipelines and how it relates to the Monitoring and Evaluation System

Taking participants through the data pipelines and how it relates to the Monitoring and Evaluation System

In communities like this, it is important to note that soft skills are needed to be taught – , like having 80% of the participants not knowing why excel spreadsheets are been used for budget data; like 70% of participants not knowing there is a Google spreadsheet that works like Microsoft Excel; like all participants not even knowing where to get the Nigeria Budget data and not knowing what Open Data means. Well moving through the school of data through the Open Data Party in this part of the world, as changed that notion.”It was an interesting and educative 2-day event taking us through the budget cycle and how budget data relates to tracking” Babangida Ummar, the Chairman of the Budget Working Group said.

Going forward, this group of NGO and journalist has decided to join trusted sources that will be monitoring service delivery of four education institutions in the state, using the Education Budget Tracker. It was an exciting 2-day as we now hope to have a monthly engagement with this working group, as a renewed effort in ensuring service delivery in the education sector. Wondering where the next data party will happen? We are going to the South – South of Nigeria in the month of October – Calabar to be precise, and on the last day of the month, we will be rocking Abuja!

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Data for Social Change in South Africa

hannah - September 29, 2014 in Community, Data Blog, Data Expeditions, Data for CSOs, Data Journalism, School_Of_Data

We recently kicked off our first local Code for South Africa School of Data workshops in Johannesburg and Cape Town for journalists and civil society respectively.

I arrived in the vibrant Maboneng district in central Johannesburg excited (and a little nervous) about helping my fellow school of Data Fellow Siyabonga facilitate our first local workshop with media organisations The Con and Media Monitoring Africa. Although I’ve attended a data workshop this was my first experience of being on the other end and it was an incredible learning experience. Siya did a fantastic job of leading the organisations in defining and conceptualising their data projects that they’ll be working on over the course of the rest of the year and I certainly borrowed and learned a lot from his workshop format.

It was great to watch more experienced facilitators, Jason from Code for South Africa and Michael from The School of Data, work their magic and share their expert knowledge on more advanced tools and techniques for working with and presenting data and see the attendees eyes light up at the possibilities and potential applications of their data.

Johannesburg sunset

Johannesburg sunset at the workshop venue

A few days later we found ourselves back in the thick of things giving the second workshop in Cape Town for civil society organisations Black Sash and Ndifuna Ukwazi. I adapted Siyabonga’s workshop format slightly, shifting the emphasis from journalism to advocacy and effecting social change for our civil society attendees.

We started off examining the broader goals of the organisation and worked backwards to identify where and how data can help them achieve their goals, as data for data’s sake in isolation is meaningless and our aim is to help them produce meaningful data projects that make a tangible contribution to their goals.

The team from Ndifuna Ukwazi at work

The team from Ndifuna Ukwazi at work

We then covered some general data principles and skills like the data pipeline and working with spreadsheets and easy-to-use tools like Datawrapper and, as well as some more advanced (and much needed) data cleaning using Open Refine as well as scraping data using Tabula which the teams found extremely useful, having been manually typing out information from pdfs up until this point.

Both organisations arrived with the data they wanted to work with at hand and it immediately became apparent that it needed a lot of cleaning. The understanding the organisations gained around working with data allowed them to reexamine the way they collect and source data, particularly for Black Sash who realised they need to redesign their surveys they use. This will be an interesting challenge over the next few months as the survey re-design will still need to remain compatible with the old survey formats to be useful for comparison and analysis and I hope to be able to draw on the experience and expertise of the School of Data network to come up with a viable solution.


Siya working his magic with the Black Sash team

By the end of the workshop both organisations had produced some visualisations using their data and had a clear project plan of how they want to move forward, which I think is a great achievement! I was blown away by the enthusiasm and work ethic of the attendees and I’m looking forward to working with them over the next few months and helping them produce effective data projects that will contribute to more inclusive, equitable local governance.


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Data Visualization and Design – Skillshare

Heather Leson - September 26, 2014 in Community, Events, HowTo, Resources, School_Of_Data, Storytelling, Visualisation

Observation is 99 % of great design. We were recently joined by School of Data/Code for South Africa Fellow Hannah Williams for a skillshare all about the data visualization and design. We all know dataviz plays a huge part in our School of Data workshops as a fundamental aspect of the data pipeline. But how do you know that, beyond using D3 or the latest dataviz app, you are helping people actually communicate visually?

In this 40 minute video, Hannah shares some tips and best practices:

Design by slides

The world is a design museum – what existing designs achieve similar things? How specifically do they do this? How can this inform your digital storytelling?


Want to learn more? Here are some great resources from Hannah and the network:

Hannah shared some of her other design work. It is great to see how data & design can be used in urban spaces: Project Busart.

We are planning more School of Data Skillshares. In the coming weeks, there will be sessions about impact & evaluation as well as best practices for mapping.

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