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SNI 2016: ICT and Open Data for Sustainable Development

Malick Lingani - November 23, 2016 in Data Blog, Fellowship

The National ICT Week (SNI) is an annual event in Burkina Faso dedicated to promote ICT. Each year, thousands of people are introduced to the basics of operating computers; impactful ICT initiatives are also rewarded by a host of prizes. This year’s event, the 12th edition, was hosted by the Ministry of Digital Economy from May 31st to June 4th with the theme of ICT and sustainable development.

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The panelists of the conference

The Burkina Open Data Initiative (BODI) was represented by its Deputy Manager, Mr. Malick Tapsoba. He gave an introductory speech that gave the audience a general idea as to what open data is about. He then continued by presenting some of the key accomplishments of BODI so far:

  • NENDO, a web application developed with data on education available on the Burkina Faso open data portal, was presented as an example of how open data can be used to boost accountability in education systems

  • the GIS data collected on drinkable water wells has become a key decision-making tool toward the achievement of ‘Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6: ‘Ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.’

  • The open election project: a web platform that allowed the visualization of both the 2015 presidential and legislative election results. The visualizations were created almost in real-time, as fast as the data was released by the electoral commission. This project, initiated by BODI, has strongly contributed to the acceptance of the election’s results by all contenders.

Some ongoing projects of BODI were also presented:

  • Open Data and government procurement tracking project. This project aims to improve transparency in the government’s budget spending and to unlock opportunities for enterprises based on market competition.

  • Open Data to monitor both foreign funds and domestic funds: “When the data are not available and open, how can we measure progress toward Sustainable Development Goals?”, said Mr. Tapsoba.

Mr. Tapsoba also announced that a hackathon had been organised to showcase the use of open data and that the results would be revealed at the closing ceremony of SNI. One participant, a student who took part in the hackathon, called for more initiatives like these. He said that he strongly appreciated the way hackathons allow programmers and non-programmers to work together to build data applications and, for him, this helps to demystify ICT in general.

Mr. Sonde Amadou, CEO of Dunya Technology and one of the panelists, spoke about Smart Cities: African cities are growing fast, he said, and Ouagadougou, the capital city of Burkina Faso, is one of them. But Open GIS Data, he continued, is a stumbling block for Smart Cities and work is needed in this area.

Dr. Moumini Savadogo, IUCN Head Country Programme, talked about the IUCN Red List of threatened, critically endangered, endangered and vulnerable species in Africa. This list helps raise awareness and encourages better informed decisions for the conservation of nature, something critical for sustainable development.

The 400 participants of the conference were well served and I was confident that most of them can now be considered as open data advocates. As a School of Data Fellow, I made sure to speak after the panelists, pointing out the importance of strong institutions supported by transparency and accountability (SDG 16) for achieving the 2030 agenda in general. So I encouraged the audience to take a look at Open Data portals, notably BODI and EITI, for transparency in the extractive industry, including the environmental impact. I also mentioned the GODAN initiative for SDG 02 and called the panelist Malick Tapsoba to develop more on that. The open data community of Burkina Faso has made that day one more step on its journey towards building a stronger open data community and data literacy advocates.


Infobox
Event name: SNI 2016: ICT and Open Data for Sustainable Development
Event type: Conference
Event theme: ICT and Open Data for Sustainable Development
Description: The conference part of Burkina Faso’s National ICT Week (SNI) purpose was to showcase the role of ICT and Open Data to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The conference was designed to bring together ICT Specialists, Academia and Open Data activists to explore and learn about Sustainable development Goals and how ICT and Open Data can contribute to that Agenda
Speakers: Pr. Jean Couldiaty (University of Ouagadougou) Facilitator, Mr. SONDE Amadou (CEO of Dunya Technology), Mr. Malick Tapsoba (BODI Deputy Manager), Dr. Moumini SAVADOGO (IUCN Head Country Programme)
Partners: Burkina Faso Ministry of Digital Economy, Burkina Faso Open Data Initiative (BODI), International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), University of Ouagadougou
Location: Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso
Date: May 31st 2016
Audience: ICT specialists, Open Data and Data Literacy enthusiasts, Students, Journalists
Number of attendees 400
Gender split: 60% men, 40% women
Duration: 1 day
Link to the event website: http://www.sni.bf

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Who works with data in El Salvador?

Omar Luna - November 16, 2016 in Data Blog, Fellowship

For five years, El Salvador has had the Public Information Access Law (PIAL), which requires various kinds of information from all state, municipal and public-private entities —such as statistics, contracts, agreements, plans, etc. These inputs are all managed under the tutelage of PIAL, in an accurate and timely manner.

As well as the social control exerted by Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in El Salvador, to ensure compliance with this law, the country’s public administration gave space for the emergence of various bodies, such as the Institute of Access to Public Information (IAPI), the Secretariat of Transparency, Anti-Corruption and Citizen Participation and the Open Government website, which compiles —without periodic revision of official documents and other resources by any government official— more than 92,000 official data documents.

In this five year period, the government showed discontent. Why? They didn’t expect that this legislation would strengthen the journalistic, activist and investigative powers of civil society, who took advantage of this period of time to improve and refine the techniques under which they requested information from the public administration.

Presently, there are few digital skills amongst these initiatives in the country. It has now become essential to ask the question: what is known about data in El Salvador? Are the initiatives that have emerged limited in the scope of their achievements? Can something be done to awaken or consolidate the interest of people in data? To answer these and other questions, I conducted a survey with different research and communication professionals in El Salvador and this is what I found.

The Scope

“I think [data work] has been explored very little (in journalism at least),” said Jimena Aguilar, Salvadoran journalist and researcher, who also assured me that working with data helps provide new perspectives to stories that have been written for some time. One example is Aguilar’s research for La Prensa Grafica (LPG) sections, such as transparency, legal work, social issues, amongst others.

Similarly, I discovered different initiatives that are making efforts to incorporate the data pipeline within their work. For two years, the digital newspaper ElFaro.net has explored various national issues (laws, homicides, travel deputies, pensions, etc.) using data. During the same period, Latitudes Foundation processed different aspects of gender issues to determine that violence against women is a multi-causal phenomenon in the country under “Háblame de Respeto” project.

And although resistance persists in government administrations and related institutions to adequately provide the information requested by civil society —deputies, think tanks, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), journalists, amongst others— more people and entities are interested in data work, performing the necessary steps to obtain information that allows them to know the level of pollution in the country, for instance, build socio-economic reports, uncover the history of Salvadoran political candidates and, more broadly, promote the examination of El Salvador’s past in order to understand the present and try to improve the country’s future.

 

The Limitations

“[Perhaps,] it is having to work from scratch. A lot of carpentry work [too much work for a media outlet professional]”, says Edwin Segura, director for more than 15 years of LPG Datos, one of the main data units in the country, who also told me that often too much time and effort is lost in cleaning false, malicious data provided by different government offices, which often has incomplete or insufficient inputs. Obviously, Segura says, this is with the intention of hindering the work of those working with data in the country.

In addition, there’s something very important that Jimena told me about the data work: “If you are not working as a team, it is difficult to do [data work] in a creative and attractive way.” What she said caught my attention for two reasons: first, although there are platforms that help create visualizations, such as Infogr.am and Tableau, you always need a multidisciplinary approach to jump-start a data project, which is the actual case of El Diario de Hoy data unit that is conformed by eight people specialized in data editing, web design, journalism and other related areas.

And, on the other hand, although there are various national initiatives that work to obtain data, such as Fundación Nacional para el Desarrollo (FUNDE), Latitudes Foundation, etc., there’s a scattered effort to do something with the results, which means that everyone does what they can do to take forward the challenge of working with databases individually, instead of pursuing common goals between them. 

Stones in the Road

When I asked Jimena what are the negative implications of working with data, she was blunt: “(Working with data) is something that is not understood in newsrooms […] [it] takes a lot of time, something that they don’t like to give in newsrooms”. And not only newsrooms, because NGOs and various civil society initiatives are unaware of the skills needed to work with data.

Of the many different internal and external factors affecting the construction of stories with data, I would highlight the following. To begin with, there is a fear and widespread ignorance towards mathematics and basic statistics, so individuals across a wide variety of sectors don’t understand data work; to them, it is a waste of time to learn how to use them in their work. For them, it’s very simple to gather data in press conferences, institutional reports and official statements, which is a mistake because they don’t see how data journalism can help them to tell stories in a different way.

Another issue is that we have an inconsistency in government actions because, although the government discursively supports transparency, their actions are focused on answering requests vaguely rather than proactively releasing good quality data —opening data in this way is hampered with delays. I experienced this first hand when, on many occasions, I asked for information that didn’t match with what I requested or, on the contrary, the government officials sent me different information, in contrast with other information requests sent by other civil society sectors (journalists, researchers, etcetera).

Where Do We Go From Here?

With this context, it becomes essential to begin to make different sectors of civil society aware of the importance of data on specific issues. For that, I find myself designing a series of events with multidisciplinary teams, workshops, activities and presentations that deconstruct the fear of numbers, that currently people have, through the exchange of experience and knowledge. Only then can our civil society groups make visible the invisible and explain the why in all kinds of topics that are discussed in the country.

With this approach, I believe that not only future generations of data practitioners can benefit from my activities, but also those who currently have only indirect contact with it (editors, coordinators, journalists, etc.), whose work can be enhanced by an awareness of data methodologies; for example, by encouraging situational awareness of data in the country, time-saving tools and transcendence of traditional approaches to visualization.

After working for two years with gender issues and historic memory, I have realized that most data practitioners have a self-taught experience; through trainings of various kinds we can overcome internal/external challenges and, in the end, reach common goals. But, we don’t have any formal curricula and all we’ve learned so far comes from a proof and error practices… something we have to improve with time.

And, also, we’re coping with the obstacles imposed by the Government on how data is requested and how the requested information is sent; we also have to constantly justify our work in workplaces where data work is not appreciated. From NGO to media outlets, data journalism is seen as a waste of time because they’re thinking that we don’t produce materials as fast as they desire; so, they don’t appreciate all the effort required to request, clean, analyse and visualise data.

As part of my School of Data Fellowship, I’m supporting the design of an educational curriculum specialising in data journalism for fellow journalists in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, so they may acquire all the necessary skills and knowledge to undertake data histories on specific issues in their home countries. This is a wonderful opportunity to awaken the persistence, passion and skills for doing things with data.

The outlook is challenging. But now that I’m aware of the limits, scope and stones in the way of data journalism in El Salvador and all that remains to be done, I want to move forward. I take the challenge this fellowship has presented me, because as Sandra Crucianelli (2012) would say, “(…) in this blessed profession, not only doesn’t shine people with good connections, even with brilliant minds: for this task only shine the perseverant ones. That’s the difference”.

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Understanding the extractives data community in Burkina Faso

Malick Lingani - November 15, 2016 in Data Blog, Fellowship

As a 2016 School of Data Fellow, my focus area of work is Extractives Data and I work with NRGI to advance data literacy in that sector in Africa, particularly in Burkina Faso.

Burkina Faso is experiencing a mining boom mainly due to the exploitation of gold. With a production of 5.6 tons of gold in 2008, Burkina Faso rose to 36.5 tons of gold exported in 2015 and the projection for 2016 is about 39.6 tons. In terms of revenues, in 2015, the share of mining in budgetary revenues was estimated at about 170 billion CFA francs (about $280 million). This represents a major development challenge for the country and in particular for the local communities around mining sites. Work to monitor and inform communities on these issues is of paramount importance and it is necessary to see the actors involved in that work.

So, a good starting point was to map the community around Extractives Data in Burkina Faso. From May 26th to July 12th 2016, I was able to achieve a clear understanding of who is involved in what and the challenges they face.

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Burkina Faso main Civil Society Organizations Coalition (SPONG) Annual Assembly

The open data and Extractives community can be split into 3 categories: Government bodies and Institutes, media and individual data journalists, and Civil Society Organisations.

Government bodies and Institutes

The two main relevant government institutions are the Information and Communication Technology Promotion National Agency (ANPTIC), which leads the Open Data community in Burkina Faso along with the Burkina Open Data initiative (BODI). There are also Institutes such as the National Institute of Statistics and Demography (INSD), the Research Institute for Development (IRD) and the Institute of Science of Population (ISSP), which undertake many socio-economic studies on the impact of mining in Burkina Faso. These Government bodies and Institutes are regularly invited by the ANPTIC to meet, in order to strengthen their relationship and encourage them to open the data in their possession.

Media

The media play a key role in covering all events related to extractives. But their work doesn’t stop there. Some media organisations are even performing in-depth analysis of data to fully inform the country’s citizens. Among the Burkinabe investigative journalists, known for their sharp insights on political issues, some took the decision to follow socio-economic courses, with the aim of becoming better armed for achieving transparency and fighting corruption. The gold mining sector, in particular, is a regular subject of investigation.

Lefaso.net, Burkina24, the blog “Le blog sam la touch” (which features all hot subjects in Burkina Faso), l’Indépendant, l’Économiste du Faso (the first economic weekly journal of Burkina Faso), l’Évènement (a monthly newspaper), and Le Pays are major media actors. Individual data journalists, specifically Justin Yarga and Stella Nana, are among those that are shaking the web with interesting insights around Extractives.

Their main data sources are research institutes and some field surveys and some of the journalists use the EITI data portal to communicate their findings.

Civil Society Organizations (CSOs)

The main CSOs involved in Extractives Data are:

  • Chambre des mines” (CMB), a non-profit organization representing the mining private sector. CMB collects economic and environmental data from the mining companies;

  • EITI Burkina Faso. When it comes to advancing Open Data in Extractives, the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), supported by the World Bank Group through a Multi-Donor Trust Fund (MDTF), is a central actor. Burkina Faso* *produces annual EITI reports that disclose the production and revenue of the extractive industries. The latest report published is from 2013;

  • Open Burkina is a young organization of activists that are active in Burkina Faso’s Open Data community;

  • Open Street Map Burkina is concerned about the spatial distribution of the mining sites;

  • BEOG NEERE, an NGO working for human rights, transparency and accountability has conducted studies on gold mining and child labour in Burkina Faso;

  • Diakonia, Oxfam, Plan Burkina, SOS Sahel International Burkina Faso are major International NGOs that are interested in the social, economic and environmental impact of mining;

  • Publish what you pay – Burkina Faso“. Publish What You Pay is a coalition of CSOs working for transparency and accountability, advocating at the policy level for people to get the most benefit of the flourishing mining sector;

  • ORCADE (Organization for the Reinforcement of Development Capacity) is also advocating at the policy level for open contracts and for the adoption of a mining code that is beneficial to local communities.

Data availability and trainings as the main challenge

Several events gather the community through the year. I have been fortunate enough to attend some of this year’s major events:

  • SEMICA, I attended the SEMICA (the annual gathering of actors involved in mining and energy), held in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso from May 26th to May 28th.

  • The SNI, (the National ICT Week) which took place in Ouagadougou from 31st of May to the 4th of June, was also a great place to meet journalists and data journalists interested in mining and sustainable development.

  • The 3rd event I attended was the General Assembly of SPONG (the main coalition of Civil Society Organizations in Burkina Faso) held in Ouagadougou the 31st of May.

I use these opportunities to administer questionnaires to the people I met at these events, in order to get some insight into their relationship with other actors in the field, the challenges they face in their work and their needs.

As revealed by the answers to the questionnaire, the main challenge of this otherwise vibrant community is still to get companies to release data. Building a strong relationship among community members has helped overcome this issue. “We are facing difficulties to convince data producers to shake things up. But we take it more as a challenge :-)”, said Idriss Tinto, technical manager at BODI. Mr Tinto continued by pointing to the need of more funds to overcome that challenge.

Capacity building is also one the recurrent needs expressed by members of the community. “Getting more access to data and a more tailored and complete training on data processing and data analysis are the main needs”; said Abdou Zouré, Editor-in-chief at Burkina24. Inna Guenda-Segueda, communication manager at CMB, pointed to the need of training on the process to collect data as disaggregated as possible from mining companies. Hence, specific trainings on the data pipeline are needed to support both data journalists and Civil Society Organizations.

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The state of Open Data in Burkina Faso

Malick Lingani - November 5, 2016 in Data Blog, Fellowship

The Open Data Community

The Burkina Open Data Initiative (BODI), set by the National Agency for the Promotion of ICT (ANPTIC), leads the open data community in Burkina Faso. Created in 2013, BODI has undertaken many activities, including building a strong community of local Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), Government Bodies and International Organizations. The Open Data Portal is also one of BODI’s key achievements. At the present time, nearly 200 data sets have been released.

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Workshop at ANPTIC headquarters for the development of the NENDO Application

To engage more people around the Open Data Initiative, BODI organises workshops and conferences in order to strengthen its partnerships with relevant stakeholders.

Education data as a starting point

In fact, data on Education has been released in partnership with the Ministry of Education, but also with the partnership of local communities. The whole process started in April 2014, in the coworking space Jokkolabs, with a workshop with Government bodies, the National Agency of Statistics and Demography, The World Bank, OpenStreetMap Burkina and many NGOs.

The Education dataset serves also as a case study for BODI to showcase the benefits of Open Data. For instance, a Web Application called NENDO is being developed. The NENDO Application shows a multilayer digital map of primary schools and kindergartens with their characteristics. CSOs like Open Burkina, BEOG NEERE, JokkoLabs, OuagaLab and also the Ministry of Education were associated in the Development of NENDO through a series of workshops and bootcamps organised at ANPTIC headquarters.

Recently, always with the spirit of inclusiveness, BODI approached the Agriculture, Water and Environment Sectors. A workshop was conducted on December 2015, with the participation of relevant stakeholders of the above sectors, including IRC Wash, the Ministries in charge of Agriculture, Water, Environment, and their respective specialised bodies. The aim was to present the work already achieved in releasing data regarding drinkable water wells. Malick Tapsoba, Deputy Manager of BODI, encouraged the ministries to release more data in their possession, in order to better inform decisions at all stages and trigger innovation for the benefit of all.The World Bank is the main funder of all the initiatives cited above.

Events and conferences as additional initiatives

Some other BODI initiatives were the 2016 Open Data Day, co-organised with Open Knowledge International (OKI) Burkina Faso, and the NGO BEOG NEERE. Open Street Map (OSM), Open Burkina, Geek Developers Network (GDN) and the Fablab Ouagalab were also present on March 5th 2016.

The academic world cannot be left behind, so a series of conferences were held in the three major universities of the country with the theme “Open Data and Academia: Challenges and Opportunities”. The University Aube Nouvelle hosted its conference on April 13th, followed one week later by the University of Bobo Dioulasso and by the University of Ouagadougou on April 28th.

Some media, mainly online media like Burkina24 and LeFaso.net, are always associated with BODI activities. These media are not only covering BODI’s events but they are participating as key data practitioners for the eclosion of a stronger data journalism community. In fact, data journalism trainings are organised for media, including bloggers, by the ANPTIC and BODI’s team.

All these conferences and workshops have helped build and strengthen a diversified community around open data in Burkina Faso but some major work remains to be done. For instance, for Extractives Data, a parallel open data community for Extractives has emerged around EITI Burkina Faso and the Burkina Chamber of Mines (CMB). I see my School of Data Fellowship as a huge opportunity to link those communities. In the next article, I will look at the Open Data and Extractives community in Burkina Faso.

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The state of Open Data in Bolivia

Raisa Valda Ampuero - November 4, 2016 in Data Blog, Fellowship

To start my work as a School of Data fellow this year, I needed to survey the Open Data community in Bolivia. I wanted to rediscover and meet its members, those that are driving us towards the goal of making the data in our country open, and identify the concerns and the challenges we face.

Bolivia’s first experience with open data occurred in June 2013 with the first Data Bootcamp in Bolivia; this experience was lead by experts, including Michael Bauer, and was attended mainly by journalists and developers. From there, we moved forward (with little steps) on the open data path with a second version of the Data Bootcamp, followed in 2015 by the first Accelerator of Data Journalism. This helped launch several small journalistic and citizen-led projects.

In order to understand the community and how best to promote the results of our joint efforts in this field, although it is not easy to make a radiograph of an emerging movement, we can categorise the Bolivian Open Data community into three groups: citizens’ initiatives, journalism and government agencies.

Citizen Initiatives

Marco Antonio Frías, a member of the open software movement, started to make maps nine years ago with Open Street Map (OSM). The project had two main goals: to move away from over-reliance on a single technology, and to gain a deeper understanding of how and where we live, understanding that the maps used are not simple photographs but also are an abstraction, a representation of a social situation, under our social and cultural precepts. It is a form of open data, he has commented, since the Bolivian maps published by the Military Geographical Institute are expensive and of low quality. He highlighted the fact that the OSM community provides recent public maps of Cochabamba, a city in Central Bolivia, whereas the last one published by the city is from 2003.

Mapillary, another example highlighted by him, is a service that enables collaboration and use of photographs taken at street level anywhere in the world, in any form of locomotion.

The challenges faced this year by Open Street Map Cochabamba are related to the work needed to be done on geography and graphical representations workshops in fields related to education. They will also have to bring into the movement a wider array of people beyond cartography and geography specialists.

Mariana Leyton is another person who has followed the rise of open data and open government in the region since early 2015. This is for her both a personal interest and a professional one,as a GobApp communications manager. In August last year, she collaborated with another Bolivian open data activist, Fabian Soria, to add Bolivia to Open Knowledge International’s Global Open Data Index. Using Facebook to call on other volunteers, she got people to participate using a Google Spreadsheet where they could upload information related to the 15 types of databases used to assess each country. Although this call could not get many contributions, the result was a document with centralising this information, which was published in September last year.

Other volunteer groups exist on Facebook, such as DatosAbiertosBo; Luis Rejas, creator of the group, believes that the greater use of open data will be a push on other institutions to open their data.

The project “Cuántas Más” also plays a key role in the open data movement: the team behind it has been monitoring and collecting data on femicide cases in Bolivia for more than one year. Femicides have been recognized officially since the Act 348, a law voted in March 2013. The Cuántas Más team created an open database and visualised the data using timelines, georeferencing, and also produced statistics and media files for all cases. A continuous validation of the data allowed them to produce accurate figures addressing various aspects of the issue of gender violence.

Another volunteer-led citizen project, “Que no te la charlen“, was a winner of the 1st. Data Journalism Accelerator challenge. It promoted more transparency about universities by systematically collecting data from public and private universities in Bolivia, before georeferencing each university and its associated information, allowing comparisons. The other aspect of their project focused on questioning the origins and uses of the budget of Bolivian public universities. For this purpose, they worked with data from 2010 to 2014 to analyze the budget of fourteen universities.

Journalistic

On the journalism side, a key reference is LT-Data, a data-focused section of the website of Los Tiempos,the main newspaper in Cochabamba. Maintained by a team led by Fabiola Chambi, with the support of Mauricio Canelas. The goal of this project is to produce a regular series of data journalism articles. Fabiola says that she began to see examples and implement projects as an autodidact, having as a major reference the Argentinian newspaper La Nación She began with population data from the World Bank, then worked with the 2012 Bolivian Census Data. The results generated were just a way to find out what was available and what could work. However, she notes that a defining moment took place at the second Bootcamp in La Paz, with the “Elige Bien” project. It is a platform designed for citizen engagement, which displayed information about candidates and parties for the 2014 elections. That said, the team is still not fully dedicated to LT-Data, sharing its time with other projects within the newsroom.

Also worth highlighting is the work of ED Data, from the Santa Cruz newspaper El Deber, which features a project called “Assets of Evo Morales’ Cabinet during the last decade“.This project required 8 months of combined efforts by journalist Nelfi Fernandez and developer Williams Chorolque, under the guidance of expert data journalists Sandra Crucianelli and David Dusster, respectively from Argentina and from Spain.

A similar project is the DataBo initiative, run by the digital platform La Pública and the NGO Oxfam. As Javier Badani, director of La Pública, explained in an interview with Inter-American Development Bank, “public institutions have not yet fully internalized the culture of information openness. However, Los Tiempos and La Pública have developed research projects using journalism and an open data philosophy.”

There are other challenges related to data journalism and open data, as seen by Tonny Lopez, journalist from El Alto, in La Paz: “Many want to do it, but internet access is still poor in newsrooms, and there is no clear process or means available. Introducing new journalists to digital journalism, is an ongoing effort, and there is a need to train them in the logic of digital tools from the onset. Those efforts currently focus on free internet tools.

Bolivian Government Agencies

AGETIC, the Agency for Electronic Government and Technologies of Information and Communication was created by Supreme Decree No. 2514, on 9 September 2015. It is a decentralized entity but subsidiary of the Ministry of the Presidency. The same decree instructs the creation of the Council of Technology Information, which is part of an open data work-table. This unit, according to Wilfredo Jordan, head consultant of the work-table, will have as main task in coming months to standardize and release of data from the Bolivian State through a web platform. This first phase includes a training component with specific audiences (journalists and researchers, for example) to promote open data, as required by the decree at the origin of the agency.

An analysis of the state of open data by the agency highlighted the fact that Bolivian public institutions, while used to share information under the Transparency Act, usually share it under non easily reusable formats. This is the case for existing open data initiatives such as GEO Bolivia and the National Statistics Institute. It is then necessary to educate civil servants on open standards and work on the standardization of public data.

Bolivia is a newcomer to the Open Data movement, making it important for the country to learn from the experience of its neighbours; there is much to learn, understand but luckily there is a true will to do so.

Thank you to everyone who contacted me and answered my calls and to all who sent information through social networks; not all contributions could be added to this article, but they are proof of the dynamic of this emerging community.

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Data Journalism for Beginners in Guatemala

Ximena Villagrán - September 6, 2016 in Event report, Fellowship

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School of Data’s first data journalism workshop in Guatemala was a total success. We invited 14 journalists, video journalists and graphic designers in Guatemala to attend a four hour workshop at “Casa de Cervantes”, to learn the basic tools of data journalism. Journalists from the most important newspapers and magazines of the country attended: Soy502, elPeriódico, Prensa Libre, Contrapoder and Nómada.

In this first event, which will be followed by other regular workshops, the journalists were able to explore the data pipeline and work with a crime dataset to obtain news stories. The workshop was given by Ximena Villagrán, assisted by Daniel Villatoro.

The objective of the workshop was that after four hours, participants would be able to understand the basics of what data journalism is, when to use it and how to use it.

The workshop started with an exercise that involved only paper (not computers) to represent the data pipeline:

  • Collect individual information

  • Gather information

  • Organize the information in a database

  • Clean, normalize and standardize the data

  • Contextualize the data

  • Create an hypothesis

  • Obtains conclusions by interviewing the database

After this exercise, participants were given a pdf document about crime in Guatemala. We first showed them how to convert this document from PDF to Excel, before manually converting the resulting table to a database. Once the database building step was done, we started creating hypotheses and analyzing the data with Excel filters.

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The PDF given to the participants

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The data once converted into a database

We arranged with the group to follow up this workshop with several others, once a month, in order to learn more about data journalism, and to explore in depth the whole data pipeline.


Infobox
Event name: Easy recipes to take away (to the newsroom)
Event type: workshop
Event theme: Data Journalism
Description: an event focusing on training journalists in data journalism pipeline
Speakers: Ximena Villagrán, Daniel Villotoro
Partners: None
Location: Guatemala, Guatemala
Date: July 2, 2016
Audience: journalists
Number of attendees 14
Gender split: 28% male 72% female
Duration: 4 hours

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Avoiding Harm While Pushing Good Stories

Vadym Hudyma - September 5, 2016 in Event report, Fellowship

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Working on Responsible Data is about asking some key questions: how can we ensure the right to consent for individuals and communities? How can we preserve privacy, security and ownership around their data. These issues should be balanced with the need to create meaningful impact with a project or a story. Which makes journalists one of a prime audiences for Responsible Data training. So I was excited when I was invited to hold a session at a big event for journalists and independent bloggers, organised by Sourcefabric in Odessa, Ukraine.

As news stories incorporate more (personal) data than ever in their work, journalists face several challenges related to the responsible use of this data – sometimes without being aware of them, as the discussion with my audience showed. We explored three issues often found in popular stories of the year past: the need for informed consent, the risks of covering war casualties, and the issues related to public ratings.

Why we need informed consent

As social media data becomes an attractive source of data and stories for news outlets, they get reminded that the rules related to traditional reporting, such as informed consent, still apply – but the nature of social media as a medium making much more complicated than just reaching out to the heroes of your story. We discussed this issue using the example of Buzzfeed’s article on sexual assault. In this case, the journalist embedded in her story several tweets from Twitter thread on this topic and made sure to have the consent of those whose tweets were quoted in the story. The problem was that it was extremely easy to get to the whole Twitter thread in one click and read the stories of those who did not want to get “popularity” brought by an article on Buzzfeed. They couldn’t reasonably expect such a high level of visibility after answering in a Twitter thread.

This is an issue explored by Helen Nissembaum, who explains that privacy is not binary and should be understood in context: people have a certain expectation of the final use of the information that they share. Once the receiver of that information (an individual on Twitter vs Buzzfeed readers) or the transmission principle (Twitter thread vs Buzzfeed article) changes, it creates a perceived violation of privacy.

As pointed out by participants, getting informed consent is not always easy in the kind of reporting, which heavily relied on social media, even though using human faces and personal stories is crucial to create impact to a story.

The risks of covering war deaths

Another example dealt with the potential issues linked to interactive maps, when used as a data story medium. Not just the usual complications of getting a complex story right, but also the connected problems of geolocation data as a possible privacy issue. There is as well a a need to consider the wider context – as with the reuse of CNN’s War Casualties Map in stories about other armed conflicts, and the possible danger for relatives of deceased fighters, who fought “for the wrong side”. Also, we looked into the problem of false sense of accuracy in the highly uncertain situation of war casualty statistics, like in the example of civilian casualties during the Syrian conflict in the example below:

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The issues with public rating

At the end, we spoke a bit about the sad example of the now closed Schooloscope project. While there are many lessons to be learned from this example, we spoke mainly about how the revelation of school ratings, without any public policy involved in place to fix the problem, was damaging to the communities involved. As a good counterexample of a solution, not just problem-driven data journalistics, I presented ProPublica’s project on public schools inequality.

As a speaker, working with a less-experienced audience, and the need to locate my presentation in the wider context of a data literacy event was a challenging, but extremely interesting task.


Infobox
Event name: Responsible Data in Data Journalism
Event type: workshop
Event theme: Responsible Data
Description: a part of 4-days training on creating data-driven stories
Speakers: Vadym Hudyma, Jacopo Ottaviani
Partners: Sourcefabric
Location: Ukraine, Odessa
Date: August 3, 2016
Audience: data journalists
Number of attendees 17
Gender split: 50% female, 50% male
Duration: 1.5 hours

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Discover patterns in hundreds of documents with DocumentCloud

Daniel Villatoro - August 20, 2016 in Fellowship, HowTo

If you’re a journalist (or a researcher), say goodbye to printing all your docs in a file, getting them into a folder, and highlighting those with markers, adding post-its and labels. This heavy burden of reading, finding repeated information and highlighting it can be done for you by DocumentCloud: it allows you to reveal the names of the people, places and institutions mentioned in your documents to line up dates in a timeline, to save your docs on the Cloud in a private way – and with the option to make them public later.

DocumentCloud is an Open Source platform, and journalists and other media professionals have been using it as online archive of digital documents and scanned text. It provides a space to share source documents.

A major feature of DocumentCloud is how well it works with printed files. When you upload a PDF scanned as an image, the platform will read it with Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to recognize the words in the file. This allows investigative journalists to upload documents from original sources and make them publically accessible, and for the documents to be processed much more easily.

Some other features include:

  • Running every document through OpenCalais, a metadata technology from Thomson Reuters that aggregates other contextual information to the uploaded files. It can take the dates from a document and graph them in a timeline or help you find other documents related to your story.

  • Annotating and highlighting important sections of your documents. Each note that you add will have its own unique URL so that you can have all in order.

  • Uploading files in a safe and private manner, but you have also the option to share those documents, make them public, and embed them. The sources and evidence of an investigation don’t have to stay in the computer of a journalist or the archives of a media organization – they can go public and become open.

  • Review of the documents that other people have uploaded such as files, hearing transcripts, testimony, legislation, reports, declassified documents and correspondence.

The platform in action

A while ago, an investigation on the manipulation of the buying system at the Guatemalan social insurance revealed a network of attorneys, doctors, specialists and associations of patients that forced the purchase of certain medicines for terminal patients. It was led by Oswaldo Hernández from *Plaza Públic*a, and DocumentCloud was at the core of the investigation process.

“I searched for words like ‘Doctor’ or ‘Attorney’ to find out the names of the people involved. That way I was able to put together a database and the relationships between those involved. It’s like having a big text document where you can explore and search everything”, explains Hernández.

When analysing one of the documents about medicines, DocumentCloud shows the names of people and institutions that are repeated in the text in a graphic plot.

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A screenshot of the graphic analysis that DocumentCloud plots from the uploaded files

Four creative uses of DocumentCloud

Below are some examples of how you can produce different types of content when you mix uploaded information, creativity and the functions of this tool.

The platform VozData, from the Argentinian newspaper La Nación, combines their own code with the technology of DocumentCloud to set up an openly collaborative platform that transforms Senate expense receipts into open and useful information by crowdsourcing it.

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Due to the fact that their investigation about violence in a prison got published in The New York Times, *The Marshall Projec*t did a follow-up about how the prison officers censored the names of some guards and interns, and also aerial photos of the prison when the newspaper was distributed to prisoners.

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The I*nternational Consortium of Investigative Journalists *(ICIJ) uses DocumentCloud so that readers can access the original documents of the Luxembourg Leak, secret agreements that reduced taxes to 350 companies across the world and approved by the Luxembourg authorities.

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The* Washington Post *used the software to explain the set of instructions that the US National Security Agencys gives to their analysts, so that whenever they fill a form to access databases and justify their research, they don’t reveal too much suspicious or illegal information.

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So, next time, when you have to do tons of research using original documents, you can make it publicly available through DocumentCloud. And, even if you’re not a journalist, you can still use this tool to browse their extensive catalogue of documents uploaded by journalists across the world.

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Call for a week-long data journalism training in Berlin

Nika Aleksejeva - August 18, 2016 in Events, Fellowship

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Photo from a data visualization training in Istanbul, 2014. Author: Nika Aleksejeva

‘Data-driven journalism against prejudices about migration’ training course for young media-makers, human rights activists and developers Berlin, 12 – 20 November 2016

Deadline for receiving applications is: 31st August 2016, 23:59h CET.


School of Data fellow, Nika Aleksejeva, in collaboration with European Youth Press (EYP), an umbrella association of young media-makers in Europe, is inviting young media-makers, designers/developers/programmers and human rights activists to participate in a week-long data journalism training. The training aims to produce impartial, data-driven reports on local migration issues using innovative storytelling forms. It will address the current European refugee crisis, from the perspective of 11 European countries (listed below).

What to expect?

The main objective of the training course is to increase data journalism skills through hands-on training and through working on a real story that will eventually be published in the media. During the project, EYP will partner up with established media organisations from the eleven, listed countries, who will each send one journalist to attend the training. Working together, participants will learn data journalism skills and immediately apply them to practical scenarios. The finished results of their work will be published by media partners of the project. It is hoped that this broad public outreach will lead to significant effect on the media’s treatment of the issue. This course will be an opportunity to strengthen an already-established international network of young media-makers, mid-career journalists and activists concerned with migration and refugee rights.

Participants of the training course will:

  • learn and practice data journalism techniques: finding the right data, scraping, compiling, cleaning, storytelling with data;

  • form teams and work on specific projects, with a view to publication in the national media of participants’ home countries;

  • make professional contacts in the field and obtain hands-on experience of working on a cross-border, data-driven investigation.

Financial Information

This training course is funded by the Erasmus+ grant. Participants will receive reimbursement of their travel costs** up to the amount indicated below, **according to their country of residence:

  • Armenia: 270 EUR

  • Belgium: 170 EUR

  • Czech Republic: 80 EUR

  • Denmark: 80 EUR

  • Germany (outside Berlin): 80 EUR

  • Italy: 170 EUR

  • Latvia: 170 EUR

  • Montenegro: 170 EUR

  • Slovakia: 170 EUR

  • Sweden: 170 EUR

  • Ukraine: 170 EUR

  • participants living in Berlin will not be eligible for reimbursement of any travel expenses.

Although travel costs will be reimbursed, participants are asked to make the travel bookings themselves, as soon as possible after being selected. Participants are also asked to take the most economical route from their place of residence to Berlin and use the following means of the transportation:

  • Train: 2nd class ticket (normal as well as high-speed trains),

  • Flight: economy-class air ticket or cheaper,

  • Bus

Accommodation, meals and all necessary materials will be provided.

Who can apply?

Applicants must fulfil all the criteria below:

  • young media-makers, journalism students, bloggers and citizen journalists with a demonstrated interest in issues related to the rights of ethnic minorities, migrants and refugees; human rights activists working on refugee/migration issues; developers interested in the topic;

  • 18-30 year-olds;

  • residents of Czech Republic, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Sweden, Armenia, Ukraine, Montenegro, Slovakia, Denmark and Latvia;

  • proficient in English.

How to apply?

Interested candidates are invited to apply by completing this application form. Please also send your CV, in Europass format, and via e-mail, to applications@youthpress.org with ‘ddj on migration’ in the subject line.

The deadline for receiving completed applications (form and CV) is: 31st August, 23:59h CET.

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In Latvia, a plea for citizens to push for data-driven public policy

Cedric Lombion - August 18, 2016 in Event report, Fellowship

Data is the core substance required for evidence-based policies and decision-making. “How do we make Latvia the country that makes most use of data to inform its decision-making?” was the question that Latvian MP’s and civil-society representatives tried to answer during 1,5 hours on the hot morning of July 2nd, at the occasion of the second edition of the national political festival, LAMPA.

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This festival, funded by the DOTS foundation, aims to clarify the concept of open data which is still new for Latvian law-makers, who often confuse it with public data. The discussions there serve as a good encouragement to give data to the hands of regular citizens and encourage them to participate in national, evidence-based policy making.

The roadblocks to evidence-based decision-making

None of the participants denied the importance of evidence in decision-making. Nevertheless, many alarming issues were detected. Open data, and engaging civil society in its use, was seen as one of the best short-term solutions for producing more thoughtful policy-making.

First, the State Controller, Elita Krumina, raised the issue that evidence – based on statistics, research documents and research papers – needs to be revised every year. There are many policies based on outdated evidence, even though the real situation has actually changed.

Another issue the Head of State Secretary Office, Martins Krievins, illuminated was that oftentimes decisions are made quickly and there is no time for lengthy research and data-gathering. At the same time, Krumina suggested that a great deal of research is conducted, but the benefit is small: “These papers repeat already-known principles of good governance without giving much data-driven solutions,” she explained.

The problem of trust

“The problem is, we don’t trust many evidence,” says Krievins. He gave an example of the census results: “First, everyone said that the data is incorrect because more people left the country than was counted. Then, when the state conducted an outsourced census, the first question was – whom did the hired company pay in bribes?”

Krievins said that data can be easily manipulated based on policy goals, whereas parliamentarian and experienced politician, Sergejs Dolgopolovs, said that he thinks it’s important to set goals and assess all the risks in order to make better decisions.

Later, Krievins admitted that there are many complex issues with evidence that may encourage a bad decision to be made: “Everyone realises that small schools in the countryside are expensive – the evidence is clear. Nevertheless, schools in the countryside are cultural centres for the local area, hosting many social events. There would be a broad social impact if small schools were to be closed.”

Ernests Jenavs, the founder and CEO of Edurio, an app that helps users to make evidence-based decisions in education, said that evidence should be separated from ideology: “Data should be analysed by independent people, not politically biased decision-makers,” says Jenavs. He suggested opening data, so that politically independent civil society members can suggest evidence-based solutions. Nika Aleksejeva, the Head of School of Data Latvia, agreed with this point, adding that there is a need for enhancing data-literacy in Latvian society and encouraging people to use open data.

Technology allows us to engage with society faster and more cheaply than before, agreed both Janevs and Aleksejeva.

The discussion was concluded by a unanimous message from the panel – there should be much more pressure from civil society for evidence-based decisions in government, and data should be open for everyone to be able to contribute to this decision-making.

Video (in Latvian): link


Infobox
Event name: Festival “Lampa”, discussion “How to make Latvia the greatest country of evidence based policy-making?”
Event type: Roundtable
Event theme: open data and data-driven public policy
Description: Possibilities to execute more evidence based and data-driven policies in Latvian government
Speakers: Ernests Jenavs (the founder and CEO of Edurio) Nika Aleksejeva (the Head of School of Data Latvia) Sergejs Dolgopolovs (parliamentarian), Elita Krumina (the State Controller), Ilze Vinkele (parliamentarian), Martins Krievins (Head of State Secretary Office), Valts Kalnins (The lead researcher at think-tank PROVIDUS)
Partners: NA
Location: Cesis, Latvia
Date: July 2
Audience: cycling society representatives, analysts, others
Number of attendees NA
Gender split: NA
Duration: 1 hour

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