How do you become data literate? Part 3
What does it mean to become ‘data literate’? Where do you start and how can you use data within your work and projects? To explore these questions, we would like to introduce some of our community members and data activists from around the world, who ended up working with data at some point in their lives. We were curious about how they actually got started and – looking back now – what they would recommend to data newbies.
Each month we will publish a new interview, this is no. #3. Got feedback? Have questions? Feel free to get in touch: [email protected]
Social change activist, data trainer at School of Data, from Kiev, Ukraine
Topics: responsible data, data security
My name is Vadym from Kiev, Ukraine. I’m a School of Data fellow working on responsible data and privacy. I worked with different Ukraine-based NGOs and helped them to design their data pipeline and their data projects in a more secure and responsible way. I’d like to give them an understanding that data sometimes can not only be liberating, but also harmful. I’m trying to persuade NGOs to consider this issue in their internal processes. Also I’m doing independent research on how our government is using personal data, how it is being stored and reused. I’m also following data discussions on the current Ukrainian situation, because we have a very huge and vibrant open data community.
When was the first time you came across data and when did you start to use data in your work?
I started interacting with data as a website editor. I worked on a very interesting project on monitoring MP’s activities and at some point our partners, who supposed to be doing analysis, failed miserably doing their job. We had two weeks left to finish the project before the launch. I have looked through the results gathered so far with my journalism background and I sensed that something terribly wrong could be published. So I gather some data-savvy friends, who could quickly gather the data needed and analyze what was really going on. We managed to finish our project in time. So this was the first stress test on data analysis and data cleaning. After this I started working with government data and slowly discovered other datasets for me.
In Ukraine, between 2012 and 2013, NGOs were under much pressure by the government. Many have been investigated, we were monitored all the time. It’s still the case now, but much less dangerous than it used to be. Within the NGO I worked with, I took care of digital security. I was trying to secure our communication and tried to implement basic understanding of digital security within the organisation.
Basically, it was when I begin to understand both the importance of data usage for putting pressure on the government and why it’s important to protect your digital infrastructure.
What topics and projects are you currently working on?
There is one very progressive governmental agency working in education. They recently published datasets on educational data, but it wasn’t properly anonymised. There are some possibilities to de-anonymise thousands of people and their educational records, which is a very sensitive information on different levels. So I was working on an article about this issue and I’m in contact with the agency to solve the issue on the public personal data. There needs to be a better understand of how data can be used and published securely. Having data available opens up many possibilities, but we should be aware of the risks as well.
How would you explain data literacy, what does it mean to you?
We live in a society that hugely depends on data, whether we understand it or not. In the last years we were dealing mostly with data held by governments. But now we have much more access to data and the whole process was further democratized in a way. This availability brings possibilities as well as risks. For me, data literacy is the ability of people to think about data not as a neutral tool, but as something that could shape society in a way, that we initially may not even expect. We should really be careful and thoughtful, when designing data project, doing research and investigations. We need to think not just about our audience, who reads our data stories or uses our data sets, but also about the people behind those data sets. So data literacy for me is understanding that there is not just numbers or data points, but also real people behind those.
What would you recommend to someone interested in data, but does not know where to start?
Probably I would recommend defining your goals. It helps to know, what you want to achieve and then look around for information and data sets available online.