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School of Data is part of the 19 million project!

- November 2, 2015 in Fellowship, Uncategorized

How can a diverse team of people, with different backgrounds from around the world, work together to find new ways to tell the story of hundreds of thousands of refugees that are migrating to Europe? How can they build new narratives that can help this people make a safer, better journey? How can they articulate possible solutions using technology?

Those are the questions that the 19 million project, and initiative of  Chicas Poderosas and La Coalizione Italiana Liberta e Diritti (CILD), will try to address the next two weeks in Rome.   The project will bring together journalists, programmers, designers and human right activists from different countries to work in teams from November 2 to the 13.


School of Data  fellow from Costa Rica, Camila Salazar, representing School of Data, is present in Rome to try to help with the discussion, bring new ideas and work on specific data projects related to the refugee crisis.  So we invite you to follow the project and involve in this initiative! You can follow the activities and help with fresh ideas on Twitter (@19mmproject) or Facebook.

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The Latin America open data community speaks loud

- October 22, 2015 in Community, Data Stories, Events, Fellowship

Last September the open data community in Latin America gathered in Santiago de Chile in the two most important events in the region to talk and discuss about open data. Since 2013, Abrelatam and ConDatos have been a space to share experiences, lessons learned and discuss issues regarding open data in Latin America.

In this third edition hundreds people from the region came to Chile showing that the open data community has a lot of potential and is continuously growing and involving in the open data movement.

As a fellow of School of Data, this was my first time in Abrelatam and ConDatos and it was a great experience to see, exchange ideas with the community and learn from all the different projects in the region. I had the opportunity to share with journalists, civil society and technology groups that were working on amazing open data initiatives.

Since there was a lot of interest in learning new tools and working specifically with data, there was also a training track in the conference with several workshops about data analysis, data cleaning, data visualization, access to public information, among others. School of Data had three workshops with ex-fellows Antonio Cucho (Perú), Ruben Moya (México) and myself as a current fellow from Costa Rica. The attendants were excited and interested in learning more.


In the past years I’ve been mainly working as a data journalist in Costa Rica, but I had never had the chance to meet the community that shared my same interests and concerns. This is what makes Abrelatam and ConDatos most valuable. It helped me learn about how things and data projects are done in other countries and see how can I improve the work I’m doing in my own country.

We all have similar issues and concerns in the region, so there’s no point in trying to fix things by yourself if you have a huge community willing to help you and share their lessons and mistakes. On the other hand, as a School of Data fellow I was given the opportunity to share my knowledge with others in data workshops, and it was a great way to show people from other countries the work we are doing in School of Data, helping build data literacy in civil society.

The most important lesson learned from this four days in Chile is that there’s an eager movement and a growing need to work together as a region to make data available and to push the open data agenda with governments. There’s no doubt the region speaks loud and is creating a lot of noise worldwide, so it’s in our hands to keep up and innovate as a community!

If you are interested in learning more about the projects, here’s a list of the projects that participated in AbreLatam in 2014 (the 2015 list well be ready soon!).


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School of data in Mexico City!

- July 21, 2015 in Data Expeditions, Event report, Fellowship

Data can be a powerful tool for NGOs that can help them improve their daily work. In order to teach these organizations ways to effectively use data, School of Data, Social Tic and colleague from Guatemala’s digital media Plaza Pública hosted a workshop on July 1st in the NGO Festival FITS in Mexico City.

Most of the participants didn’t have previous experience with open data so the idea of the workshop was to show them how to find information online or ask for it to public institutions; teach them simple analysis tools like pivot tables in Excel and give them an introduction to data visualization.

The 25 participants found the workshop interesting and were curious about more data trainings for the future.

Besides helping NGOs, data can be useful for journalism students, data science students, or even curious citizens interested in learning about open data. So we hosted another workshop on July 2nd in the TAG CDMX a huge event in Mexico City about technology.

School of data and Social Tic had two workshops and Data Expeditions with more than 70 participants across the two sessions. We taught data cleaning with Open Refine, data analysis with Excel and data visualization. All of this with public databases available online.

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The experience was really good since we had a really diverse audience that was interested in learning new things. We had positive feedback afterwards of participants that came to ask more questions about trainings and how could they get in touch with School of Data.

A good tip to remember is to have different activities prepared for workshops in big events, since you don’t know for sure what kind of audience is going to attend and you have to be able to adapt the contents.

Mexico City, with its big open data community and its many data-related projects, is an inspiring example for the open data community in Latin America.

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Analyzing regional data: Data Expedition in Costa Rica

- July 6, 2015 in Data Expeditions, Event report, Fellowship


2.947 civil servants will be elected next year in Costa Rica, during the upcoming municipal elections. But, are the citizens aware of what’s going on in every district? Do they know the main issues their district is facing or the way the budget been spent?

To answer these questions Abriendo Datos Costa Rica, School of Data and Social Tic organized a Data Expedition in Costa Rica. As a result 57 people from civil society (journalists, analysts, programers, designers,…) worked in teams during eight hours with the data.

The database that was used in the expedition can be accessed here. We built it with data from the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, the National Institute of Statistics and the General Contoller of Finances.

What did the participants find?

The participants worked in ten different groups and each one tried to answer one specific question.  This were some of the findings:

  • One of the teams thought as an exercise: If we were to allocate money to elderly population in poverty, in which districts we would invest it? Analyzing the data, they concluded that in 17% of the districts a tenth of the pIMG_2906opulation was elderly people in poverty. This was a good example of how to use data to make informed decisions.
  • Another group asked: Which are the best districts to live in if you are a woman? The participants classified the districts according to their gender gap index and found that the ones with more gender inequality had a female occupation rate two times lower that the districts with less gender inequality.
  • One team found that the district with more electoral participation in local elections had one of the worst budget spending. Why isn’t the local government spending on its population?
  • Some other teams analyzed the districts with more disabled people or with more usage of technology.


During the activity the team of facilitators tried to explain the difference between correlation and causation, which was one of the most common mistakes the attendants were making when analyzing the data.


For this training we provided a database ready to use to the participants. But in the future it might be interesting to show them where where can they find public databases and more datasets to enrich their analysis.

Overall the best part of the experience was to see so many people interested in learning about how to use data, working in teams and answering questions that affect their daily lives. As Julio Cortés, one of the participants, said, the idea behind these activities is to help building a more informed society. So, we’ll definitely be planning new activities in the next months to encourage the usage of open data!

More pictures of the event here.

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Data literacy in Costa Rica

- May 14, 2015 in Data Blog, Fellowship

OGPSanJoseAre the audiences in Costa Rica ready to read numbers? Do they know how to efficiently use data?  Those are valid questions in a context where the use of open -and big- data has gained power worldwide, with different initiatives promoting the use of information to improve daily life.

There are no exact measures of the data literacy in Costa Rica, but the fact is we have been producing data for thousands of years and using it to tell stories, record history and making decisions.  More recently, new technologies have emerged and they are used more intensely by citizens.  For example, according to the National Household Survey of 2014, from the National Institute of Statistics, 58,7% of the population had access to the internet in 2014 (55% of households), and nearly half of them (44%) accessed the internet through mobile devices.  In comparison, in 2000 only 10% of the households had internet.  Additionally, a lot of public institutions, universities, enterprises, the government and even citizens are constantly creating and exchanging information.

So we have the data, the technology, but we need the ability to put those two together to create something useful.  The question we need to answer is how can we encourage and teach citizens towards data-driven-decision making?

Some initiatives have been addressing this issue in the past years. Media and journalism have also started to use data as a primary source of information to tell stories. Three of the most important media in the country have data driven journalism units that have created journalistic stories that caused impact and involvement of the audience and even public authorities, for example: government spending in rentals, the hidden cost of gasoline, the returns of education, factchecking the political candidates, an analysis of the national database of 113 years of registered births, among others.

opendatadaycr2Besides, there are civil society organizations like Abriendo Datos, that have started to build a data community in Costa Rica, that creates awareness of the importance of public information.  Another practical example: Costa Rica is one of the countries with more active users in Waze, a community-based traffic and navigation app, that basically uses data to help drivers arrive to their destinations.  The app is so popular that the Minister of Transportation partnered with Waze to exchange information about traffic or road closures, to help both the traffic police and drivers.  This shows that people found a way to use data – for example let drivers know where’s an accident- and technology to improve their daily lives.  They learned how to deal with  the problem of driving in Costa Rica using data.

In addition Costa Rica’s government joined the Open Government initiative in 2012, to improve access to data in public institutions.  Nevertheless the process has been slow and only a few institutions have made real efforts to make information available and easy to obtain.    For example, the country ranked first in the access of National Statistics, in the latest Open Data Index, but overall Costa Rica got a score of 38%.

opendatadayCRThis shows that there are challenges ahead regarding the access to public information and lack of data literacy in some of the public institutions that produce big amounts of data.  A lot of information of this entities is still collected in paper and not in digital formats, and it’s not centralized.  So if you want to access this information you have to go to different offices, look for the papers and star digitizing it by yourself, which is a slow, tedious process.  In other cases, I personally have experienced that institutions treat you in a different way when you ask for public information if you work in a media organisation in comparison if you ask for the data as a citizen or a university student.  There is also a delay in response times, even though the law establishes a maximum of 10 days to give the information.

We have to address this and other issues, but in order to do that we have to make people aware of the importance of public data.  I’ve found that the best way to start is to be persistent, continuously ask for information, keep creating data driven contents and keep a constant exchange with audiences, since data literacy is a process in the making in which involvement and community is necessary.

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