School of Data started as a collaboration between Open Knowledge International (OKI) and Peer-to-Peer University (P2PU) in 2012. Rufus Pollock (OKI) and Phillip Schmidt (P2PU), during their Shuttleworth Fellowships, decided to setup an online platform to teach data skills. At that time, School of Data was a three person team: two from OKI and one from P2PU.
Quickly, the materials available on the School of Data website caught attention from multiple users around the world. In the beginning of 2013, School of Data welcomed on board its first member organisation, SocialTIC, from Mexico. The organisation was already translating and using School of Data resources even before it joined the network. There was no specific strategy to build a global community, only a hypothesis that people would learn better in their native languages.
It was also in 2013 that we realised the success of the offline teaching methodologies compared to the online ones, combined with the fact that it was hard to keep written materials up to date when the space was moving as fast as it was meant that the direction in the School of Data team pivoted to more human-centric capacity building, prioritising face to face trainings. Materials were still produced on demand, when we had a session coming up and targeted to use in offline situations.
The birth of the Fellowship programme
Later that year, in October 2013, Open Knowledge Brasil became the second member organisation in our network. Content was translated to Portuguese-Brazilian, and folks in the country started organising training events in the country. The demand for training was pretty high at this point. Many requests would come directly to School of Data but we didn’t have the staff to deal with them and even when we did, we felt that training was better delivered by people with local knowledge and in other languages. That’s when the Fellowship Programme was conceptualised: we needed local experts who would both share expertise and be willing to train people in their local context.
At that time we called our fellows “community mentors” and some amazing people emerged, but we never had the opportunity to meet them in person at that time, so work happened in isolation. We realised fellows were amazing and we needed to do this right. We organised a proper programme that could be fully supported, with opportunities for travel, to run events and meet the team in person.
While the Global Fellowship getting ready to see the light of the day, many volunteer-led translation sprints led to the creating of French (through Open Knowledge France) and Greek (Open Knowledge Greece) websites. Other active local groups emerged in Spain, through Open Knowledge Spain and Italy. These groups run events and joined the conversation about how to pus forward data-driven missions in their countries.
It was in 2014 that we launched our official iteration of the Fellowship Programme. Many organisations joined the initiative and became implementing partners: SocialTIC, Code for South Africa, Metamorphosis Foundation, K-Monitor, the Foundation for an Open Society and Publish What You Pay Indonesia. They all were on board to support fellows on the ground in Mexico, South Africa, Macedonia, Hungary, Romania and Indonesia.
2014 was a special year for School of Data because that’s when this whole group of aforementioned organisations and people met up in person for the first time. In July 2014 we hosted the first School of Data Summer Camp in Potsdam. Volunteers who helped translate the website, member organisations who partnered up with us, “community mentors”, current fellows, funders, friends and School of Data staff got together for 4 days to discuss the future of the network and kickstart the Global Fellowship Programme. We made a pretty awesome video about how it was like to be there and why we’re doing this. You can check it out here.
We originally selected partners and collaborators in a less formal way. The plan was to build a more structured approach, appreciating the fact that a formal process is not always appropriate or necessary to do great things. That’s exactly what we did in 2015.
A network-driven governance
Pumped by the experience we had at the Summer Camp in 2014 and the knowledge we gathered running the Fellowship Programme, built upon the previous cycle, the School of Data team set out to run the second iteration of Fellowship and our second Summer Camp. 2015 was also a special year because that’s when we elected the School of Data Steering Committee.
The Steering Committee is a rotating group formed by OKI, School of Data member organisations and a senior fellow. The committee is the highest decision making power of the project, overseeing its implementation, developing its governance, coordination team and fundraising strategy. The Steering Committee decided to take an important step after it was elected: to study and plan for the spin out of School of Data so that it would become a separated organisation from Open Knowledge International, where it was incubated and is still supported.
And that’s what is happening in 2016. We organised our Summer Camp in Brazil, elected a new Steering Committee and are in the process of becoming our own organisation, thanks to the effort, energy and guidance of so many friends, funders, partners, members and organisations that believe in our future and agree with out vision to bring data-literacy where it’s most needed in a fun, engaging and relatable way. We look back and see how much we’ve grown, but we’re sure of the following: our best days are ahead of us.
Our core values
The School of Data Network and all of the activities of its members are underpinned by a shared set of core values; values which guide the network’s work and inform decision making.
Empowerment: School of Data provides data literacy skills as a way of empowering individuals and organizations to understand their environment, answer questions that matter, and engage with other stakeholders in an evidence based manner. School of Data seeks especially to serve those who currently lack the skills and capacity, those who struggle to use data and where using data could make a difference in effecting real change.
Collaborative: Two central philosophies are ‘learning by doing’ and ‘working with real data’. Our regular participatory learning events (Data Expeditions) and targeted workshops are the ideal mechanisms to bring a diverse set of stakeholders into a single convening event to collectively discover what data can do for them.
Responsible and ethical use of data: We believe in the responsible and ethical use of data. There are many data sources being accessed by different actors, with different uses and implications. School of Data strives to raise discussions and ask the right questions about the limits of the use of data and how privacy and surveillance are accounted in different contexts.
Evidence is Power: School of Data provides data skills to promote quality of dialogue and discussion. School of Data wants to see more debate based on evidence and data.
Non-partisanship: School of Data does not advocate or specifically support any political viewpoint.