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The Data Journalism Bootcamp at AUB Lebanon

- January 29, 2015 in #OpenData Party, American University of Beirut, Big Data, bootcamp, Data Journalism, Events, fellowship, gephi, Mapping, School of Data, Workshop

Data love is spreading like never before. Unlike previous workshops we did in the MENA region, on the 18th of January 2015, we gave an intensive data journalism workshop at the American University of Beirut for four consecutive days in collaboration with Dr. Jad Melki, Director of media studiesilovedata program at AUB. The Data team at Data Aurora were really happy sharing this experience with students from different academic backgrounds, including media studies, engineering or business. The workshop was mainly led by Ali Rebaie, a Senior School of Data fellow, and Bahia Halawi, a data scientist at Data Aurora, along with the data community team assistants; Zayna Ayyad and Noor Latif. The aim of the workshop was to give the students an introduction to the world of open data and data journalism, in particular, through tutorials on open source tools and methods used in this field. Moreover, we wanted to put students on track regarding the use of data.AUBworkshop On the first day, the students were introduced to data journalism, from a theoretical approach, in particular, the data pipeline which outlined the different phases in any data visualization project: find, get, verify, clean, analyze and present. After that, students were being technically involved in scraping and cleaning data using tools such as open refine and Tabula. Day two was all about mapping, from mapping best practices to mapping formats and shapes. Students were first exposed to different types of maps and design styles that served the purpose of each map. Moreover, best mappings techniques and visualizations were emphasized to explain their relative serving purpose. Eventually, participants became able to differentiate between the dot maps and the choropleth maps as well as many others. Then they used twitter data that contained geolocations to contrast varying tweeting zones by placing these tweets at their origins on cartodb. Similarly, they created other maps using QGIS and Tilemill. The mapping exercises were really fun and students were very happy to create their own maps without a single line of code. On the third day, Bahia gave a lecture on network analysis, some important mathematical notions needed for working with graphs as well as possible uses and case studies related to this field. Meanwhile, Ali was unveiling different open data portals to provide the students with more resources and data sets. After these topics were emphasized, a technical demonstration on the use of Gephi to analyze two topics wasworkshopaub performed. Students were analyzing climate change and later, the AUB media group on Facebook was also analyzed and we had its graph drawn. It was very cool to find out that one of the top influencers in that network was among the students taking the training. Students were also taught to do the same analysis for their own friends’ lists. Facebook data was being collected through Netviz and the visualizations were being drawn using Gephi. After completing the interactive types of visualizations, the fourth day was about static ones, mainly, infographics. Each student had the chance to extract the information needed for an interesting topic to transform it into a visual piece.  Bahia was working around with students, teaching them how to refine the data so that it becomes simple and short, thus usable for building the infographic design. Later, Yousif, a senior creative designer at Data Aurora, trained the students on the use of Photoshop and illustrator, two of the tools commonly used by infographic designers. At the end of the session, each student submitted a well done infographic of which some are posted below. After the workshop Zayna had small talks with the students to get their feedback and here she quoted some of their opinions: “It should be a full course, the performance and content was good but at some point, some data journalism tools need to be more mature andStatic Infographics developed by the students at the workshop. user-friendly to reduce the time needed to create a story,” said Jad Melki, Director of media studies program at AUB, “it was great overall.” “It’s really good but the technical parts need a lot of time. We learned about new apps. Mapping, definitely I will try to learn more about it,” said Carla Sertin, a media student. “It was great we got introduced to new stuff. Mapping, I loved it and found it very useful for me,” said Ellen Francis, civil engineering student. “The workshop was a motivation for me to work more on this,” she added, “it would work as a one semester long course.” Azza El Masri, a media student, is interested in doing MA in data journalism. “I like it I expected it to be a bit harder, I would prefer more advanced stuff in scraping,” she added.   flattr this!

Breaking Borders: The #OpenData Party in Accra Ghana

- December 31, 2014 in #OpenData Party, accountability, Accra, Data Clinic, Events, ghana, School of Data, starghana, Transparency

In the last series of our advocacy on Open Data through capacity building, we finally had a data clinic session at the Asa Royal Hotel in Accra, Ghana on Tuesday, December 9, 2014 a coincidence with the International Anticorruption Day, and CSOs in Accra Ghana weren’t left out. Why did we try taking this gospel to Ghana? We had enjoyed close collaboration and relationship with start ups and NGOs in Ghana, and for them, one of the drawbacks in finding data is the unavailability of a freedom of information act, or the access to information act. Just like we have seen in Nigeria, NGOs and activist seem not familiar with data pipelines or what we refer to as the data management processes, likewise basic tools that can be used in analyzing data. Unlike Nigeria, the transparency and accountability [T&A] movement in Ghana is coordinated under the STARGHANA project. Thus creating an ecosystem of groups working in the T&A component of the Open Data movement. “Two years ago, I was part of a team that initiated the SMS reporting on service delivery in the health sector, however, I am not sure how much the system is working anymore” explained Joseph Senyo, National Director of Programmes, Community and Family Aid Foundation
Open Data Party in Accra Ghana

Participants at the Open Data event in Accra Ghana

While going through finding data, it was interesting to know that Nigeria has more datasets available online than Ghana, as most of the participants couldn’t figure out where to find the budget data of the country, although some mentioned the ministry of finance, but surprisingly we couldn’t get budget data from this website. Nevertheless, the country national statistics online portal is a one – stop shop for datasets in the country, and only one of the participants knew this existed. Analyzing using Microsoft Excel, and Google Spreadsheets was an eye – opener for participants, as most of them requested to know how this can be applicable in their various works. While it was important to drive this conversation forward, outside the training sessions, the participants were already thinking about a 3 –day event that could bring together government, NGOs and other activist in the coming year. But, our trip to Accra would not have been complete without taking some time at the iSpace (it was a women in technology day, and we had ladies) and the LaBadi Beach – it is known that trainings can also be complemented with ice breakers on the beach – and same we did, and fortunately for us – it was the reggae night.
Getting  instant feedbacks from participants

Getting instant feedbacks from participants

“We would have like to have more days of training, as the little minutes I spent was quite educative, especially the use of analysis tools, thus making me to know how important data is to my various monitoring and evaluation work” said Mensah Ileom of Inspire Africa. Actually, I have seen more NGO participants looking towards how data gathering can also help them in monitoring and evaluation, aside using it for advocacy, and monitoring service delivery.   flattr this!

Catch us if you Can: The #OpenData party moves to Calabar!

- October 28, 2014 in #OpenData Party, Events, Journalist, NGOs, Nigeria, Obudu Mountain Resort, Open Data, Open Data in Calabar

So what’s the fuss about this #Opendata party in the South South of Nigeria – It will be held in one of the cleanest city in AfricaCalabar, and will be hosted in a state that has the most comforting tourist attraction in West Africa – the Obudu Mountain Resort! If you think there is another like it in the region, please comment below ;) and one other thing about Calabar is the attributes to their women, and just for clarification – Calabar remains the capital city of Cross River State. Right on time at the popular Mirage Hotel on October 15, 2014 was the Open data party that had 15 participants from different NGOs, citizens and this time we had some government officials – thus making it interesting. Whenever you have these three groups locked on a round table – questions like: why didn’t you make the data available, why didn’t  you reply our FOIA, didn’t we make funding available for you to monitor, what happened to all the international aid you get, all come up, and as a facilitator – you are lost!
Break out session at the Open Data Party in Calabar

Break out session at the Open Data Party in Calabar

With my experience teaching data with NGOs, journalists and citizens, it is still clear that few of the practitioners know where even the little data available is hidden online. “It is appalling that we all here don’t know where the federal government budget is being published” affirmed Onoche Mokwunye. I get this answer often in all my sessions, which makes us conclude at times that the simple skill of finding data (secondary) itself and what their interest was in data, remains important. In trying to figure out what kind of data they were interested in 40% of the participants were interested in budget data of the country; 30% were interested in contract data  (in essence, the issue of money, and how it’s been used is important), while the remaining 30% was shared amongst election data, environmental data, infrastructure data, and transport data (which seems not to be available). Going forward did they really know where to find this data? KNOW! Well, it will be important to state that the Nigerian government has recently focused on some open data initiatives, even though it is not as if these portals make data available in machine readable format.
See what kind of data our participants were interested in

See what kind of data our participants were interested in

One may think, since we wouldn’t know where to find, or how to get the data, analyzing data might be a great challenge, of course NO! This group had great knowledge of diving into excel spreadsheets – maybe I knew only one way of handling some task before, now I learnt two more ways – that was the most interesting part of this data party! So what else, how do we present this datasets using several visualizations and infographic. “I have seen several colourful visualizations (online) that people in our communities cannot relate with, as such we still need to break it down in the language they will understand (offline) – maybe that’s an added task for us” explained Benny from AfterSchool Peer Mentoring Project When our Open Data party ends within 8 hours, participants are at times heartbroken! “Are we going to continue tomorrow, I seem to be an information and skill overload in a short time” – mentioned Ndoma Mayor in a phone call with me. Truly, does our party end in 8hours? What happens to the” party” behind Open data – we always rock the club, after all, we are in Calabar, where the female become goddess at night! And if you want to know where our next open data party will be happening: most definitely – Abuja, No thanks to Connected Development [CODE] and Indigo Trust UK flattr this!

Breaking the Knowledge Barrier: The #OpenData Party in Northern Nigeria

- October 1, 2014 in #OpenData Party, Budget Data, Budget Tracking, community, Data Expeditions, Data for CSOs, Events, Follow the Money, Geocoding, Mapping, Nigeria, spreadsheets, Storytelling, visualisation, Zamfara

If the only news you have been watching or listening to about Northern Nigeria is of the Boko Haram violence in that region of Nigeria, then you need to know that other news exist, like the non-government organizations and media, that are interested in using the state and federal government budget data in monitoring service delivery, and making sure funds promised by government reach the community it was meant for. This time around, the #OpenData party moved from the Nigeria Capital – Abuja to Gusau, Zamfara and was held at the Zamfara Zakat and Endowment Board Hall between Thursday, 25 and Friday, 26, 2014. With 40 participant all set for this budget data expedition, participants included the state Budget Monitoring Group (A coalition of NGOs in Zamfara) coordinated by the DFID (Development for International Development) State Accountability and Voice Initiative (SAVI),other international NGOs such as Society for Family Health (SFH), Save the Children, amongst others.
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Group picture of participants at the #OpenData Party in Zamfara

But how do you teach data and its use in a less-technology savvy region? We had to de-mystify teaching data to this community, by engaging in traditional visualization and scraping – which means the use of paper artworks in visualizing the data we already made available on the Education Budget Tracker. “I never believed we could visualize the education budget data of the federal government as easy as what was on the wall” exclaimed Ahmed Ibrahim of SAVI
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Visualization of the Education Budget for Federal Schools in Zamfara

As budgets have become a holy grail especially with state government in Nigeria, of most importance to the participants on the first day, was how to find budget data, and processes involved in tracking if services were really delivered, as promised in the budget. Finding the budget data of the state has been a little bit hectic, but with much advocacy, the government has been able to release dataset on the education and health sector. So what have been the challenges of the NGOs in tracking or using this data, as they have been engaged in budget tracking for a while now?
Challenges of Budget Tracking Highlighted by participants

Challenges of Budget Tracking Highlighted by participants

“Well, it is important to note that getting the government to release the data took us some time and rigorous advocacy, added to the fact that we ourselves needed training on analysis, and telling stories out of the budget data” explained Joels Terks Abaver of the Christian Association of Non Indigenes. During one of the break out session, access to budget information and training on how to use this budget data became a prominent challenge in the resolution of the several groups. The second day took participants through the data pipelines, while running an expedition on the available education and health sector budget data that was presented on the first day. Alas! We found out a big challenge on this budget data – it was not location specific! How does one track a budget data that does not answer the question of where? When involved in budget tracking, it is important to have a description data that states where exactly the funds will go. An example is Construction of Borehole water pump in Kaura Namoda LGA Primary School, or we include the budget of Kaura Namoda LGA Primary School as a subtitle in the budget document.
Taking participants through the data pipelines and how it relates to the Monitoring and Evaluation System

Taking participants through the data pipelines and how it relates to the Monitoring and Evaluation System

In communities like this, it is important to note that soft skills are needed to be taught – , like having 80% of the participants not knowing why excel spreadsheets are been used for budget data; like 70% of participants not knowing there is a Google spreadsheet that works like Microsoft Excel; like all participants not even knowing where to get the Nigeria Budget data and not knowing what Open Data means. Well moving through the school of data through the Open Data Party in this part of the world, as changed that notion.”It was an interesting and educative 2-day event taking us through the budget cycle and how budget data relates to tracking” Babangida Ummar, the Chairman of the Budget Working Group said. Going forward, this group of NGO and journalist has decided to join trusted sources that will be monitoring service delivery of four education institutions in the state, using the Education Budget Tracker. It was an exciting 2-day as we now hope to have a monthly engagement with this working group, as a renewed effort in ensuring service delivery in the education sector. Wondering where the next data party will happen? We are going to the South – South of Nigeria in the month of October – Calabar to be precise, and on the last day of the month, we will be rocking Abuja! flattr this!