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Data literacy research: update and OGP sessions

- October 27, 2015 in Impact

Announcement: We will be presenting the preliminary findings of our data literacy research at the OGP convening in Mexico City. We are leading a knowledge café session on this topic on CSO day (Tuesday the 27th at 2, classroom C9) and participating on mySociety’s panel on research and digital democracy during the Summit (Wednesday the 28th at 4, also at classroom C9). We’ll be happy to see you there! 

As we shared a few months back, School of Data is working on a research project to understand data literacy efforts around the world. We are using a framework which is informed by the principles of action research. We have conducted a series of semi-structured interviews with relevant stakeholders, and have collected literature, existing research and resources that help illuminate effective methodologies that are in use. This is currently being analysed and written up with the goal of improving data literacy practice in the short term, informing efforts to provide data literacy in the long run.

While we are still in the process of putting the final touches on our research paper, we want to share a few facts from our preliminary findings…

  • Context: much data literacy work is independent from tools, and has to do with the ability to understand the context of data. How it came to be, where it is to be found, how it can be validated, what lines of analysis are worth exploring.
  • Data pipeline: The School of Data data pipeline has been the most recurring concept in interviews, even among actors outside the School of Data network. This finding has prompted us to start digging deeper into how this concept came to be and why the data literacy community finds it useful.
  • The role of soft skills: The level of comfort and confidence of beneficiaries when working with data is mentioned often, which could be an indication of the importance of looking beyond data literacy and into pedagogical resources to ensure data literacy work is designed around tactics that promote such environments (or “academic mindsets”, as described in one of the interviews.
  • Beneficiaries: The people we interviewed are either focusing their efforts on getting journalists to make better use of data in their reporting, or organisations and individuals to make better use of data in advocacy that will lead to social change.
  • Experiential methodology: Often it’s about providing people with a dataset and getting them to develop a story from it; other times, it’s hands-on training addressing different parts of the data pipeline. Most interviewees so far have made an emphasis on the importance of actually identifying and working with data sets.
  • The length of each data literacy process varies. Larger and older organizations favor intensive, long term processes with relatively few beneficiaries; smaller and younger organizations or individuals favor short-term trainings to reach larger audiences.

We will keep you all posted as this process evolves. That said – if you want to add some input, it’s still a good time to take the survey. If you’d like to get in touch with the people behind the research, you can reach us at dataliteracy [at] fabriders [dot] net.

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Safety for Civil Society Organizers

- October 17, 2014 in Uncategorized

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

- October 15, 2014 in Uncategorized


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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Tips for teaching/training on data skills

- August 29, 2014 in Community, HowTo

(photo of Ignasi, Olu and Ketty by Heather Leson, July 2014 (CC-by))

(photo of Ignasi, Olu and Ketty by Heather Leson, July 2014 (CC-by))

You probably have a skill or knowledge that others would love to acquire… but teaching can be intimidating. Fear not! In this post, we will share a few tips from the School of Data network, which is filled with individuals who hold continuous trainings on all things data worldwide.

It’s not a great idea to improvise when you are frozen by stage fright, nor to realize in the middle of a workshop that you can’t continue as planned because you are missing materials. That’s why formal planning of each workshop can help. Here’s an example you could use.

Michael from School of Data in Berlin has a special piece of advice for your planning: “Be yourself! Find the teaching method you feel comfortable with (I like to do things ad-hoc, Anders prefers slides, e.g.)”

Also, maybe it’s a good idea to partner up. Cédric from School of Data in France makes a great point: “There are two essential things in a workshop: knowledge of methodology and knowledge of the subject. More often than not, it’s better to separate them between two people. One will make sure that the workshop goes smoothly, and the other will help individuals get past roadblocks”.

Be mindful of how you speak
Beyond what you say, the way you speak can have an impact on the success of your workshop. Michael (again) and Heather from School of Data in Toronto recommend that you try to speak a bit slower than you’re used to, with simple sentences, and avoiding jargon or descriptive metaphors.

Make it a friendly environment
Helping people feel comfortable and welcome is necessary in every educational setting. Happy from School of Data in the Philippines explains it: “The point is to keep it as trivial as possible so that people don’t feel intimidated by the skill level of others”.

Codrina from School of Data in Romania has a lot of experience here: she recommends not keeping it too serious, and rather make small jokes; also, “give a little pat on the back for those who ask questions”… And don’t forget to take breaks! Yuandra from School of Data in Indonesia reminds us of something crucial: refreshments and water. People won’t learn if they’re distracted by hunger.

Also, icebreakers. We all love icebreakers, and Olu from School of Data in Nigeria has these in mind.

Try to connect with your audience
We use this phrase a lot, but what does it mean? Ketty from School of Data in Uganda puts it in very practical terms: try to read the learner’s facial expressions for e.g. confusion/tiredness/intent. This will help you find the best ways to continue.

Also, Ketty adds, “sometimes you have to be flexible and allow the learners to change your program… A bit of a give & take approach”.

On a slightly different topic, but still related to your connection with the audience, Olu thinks your audience will be inspired to work harder in your workshop if you tell them stories of what data/open data can be used for. You can find some at the World Bank Open Data Blog, and here on School of Data.

Some other didactic considerations
Heather recommends that you repeat key things 3 times (but not right after each other – spread them throughout the workshop). Also, Codrina recommends repeating questions when they are asked so everyone can hear before the answer is given.

Another recommendation: If you have a really successful workshop, try to replicate it through other media. For example, run it on a hangout, write it out on a tutorial. Multiple content won’t be redundant – it will mean more and more people will have a chance to learn from it.

Happy has a great tip: “When you want to get the group to mingle and pair up (data analysts paired with visualizers, for example) one way to do it is to divide the group, 1 line for data analysts, another for visualizers. Then we ask them to line up according to a range of categories – from technical categories or something as simple as personal information, like the number of house they lived in during their childhood, for example”.

Make an effort to keep track of time and exactly how long you spend on each part, Cédric recommends, as this will help you plan for future trainings.

Your audience may well be outside the room where you are doing the training. Cédric adds: “Sometimes good suggestions can come from social media platforms like Twitter, so if you have an audience there, you might want to share some updates during the event. People might answer with ideas, technical advice or more”.

The workshop was fun and people attended. But did they really learn?

Try to evaluate this learning through different methods. Was everyone able to complete the exercises? What did they respond that they learned in your ‘exit survey’? Did you get good responses to your last round of oral questions?

Olu kindly shared a couple of forms that can be used for this purpose both before and after the training. Feel free to use them!

A few resources shared by the School of Data community
Notes from the OKFest How to Teach Data Session (July 2014)
Aspiration Tech has great tips in their guides (via Heather)
PSFK on how people make/learn (via Heather)
Escuela de Datos on our Local LATAM training lessons learned

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