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The Big Easy Budget Game and Open for open data

- March 28, 2019 in Open Contracting, Open Data Day, open data day 2019, Open Mapping, serbia, USA

This report is part of the event report series on International Open Data Day 2019. On Saturday 2nd March, groups from around the world organised over 300 events to celebrate, promote and spread the use of open data. Committee for a Better New Orleans and Center for education and transparency – CETRA from Serbia received funding through the mini-grant scheme by Hivos / Open Contracting Partnership and Mapbox, to organise events under the Open Contracting and Open Mapping themes respectively. This is a joint report produced by Kelsey Foster and Predrag Mijalković. To celebrate Open Data Day 2019, the Committee for a Better New Orleans partnered with Code for New Orleans to launch the 2019 version of the Big Easy Budget Game, an interactive website that asks residents to balance their city budget.   CBNO and Code for New Orleans’ Open Data Day 2019 event was held at Wrong Iron, a new beer garden located on a greenway through the heart of a residential neighbourhood on March 12. March 2 was the officially observed Open Data Day, but fell in the midst of New Orleans’ Mardi Gras celebrations. New Orleans City District A Council member Joe Giarrusso and staff from City Council District C attended the event and spoke with constituents about the importance of resident input into the budget. About 75 New Orleanians attended the event. The inspiration for the Big Easy Budget Game came in the years following Hurricane Katrina. Five years after the storm, the Committee for a Better New Orleans convened neighbors from across the city to talk about what wasn’t working for them. The story we heard over and over again was: the money. Where is it going? In a city where billions of dollars of recovery aid had been flowing in for years, many still saw the house next door empty, the roads  unpaved, and their street lights burnt out. When our former Mayor Ray Nagin was indicted on twenty-one charges of wire fraud, bribery, and money laundering, it became clear that transparency in our city budget was necessary– but how can residents hold government accountable for a $1 billion, 800-page document that they don’t understand? At CBNO, we saw an opportunity to build a bridge between government and residents, while empowering our community to learn and give input into a process that had previously been closed to them. No public document affects the lives of residents more than the budget: it holds our bus schedules, the books in our libraries, and the lights on our basketball courts. The Big Easy Budget Game shows residents how much funding each city department receives in a year and tells them what happens if they give more or less funding. Residents can see how the government works and make decisions on funding based on what they need in their communities. On our end, CBNO receives the data from hundreds of residents a year that we can share with our mayor, city council, and civil society organizations. Each year, our data is compiled into The People’s Budget Report and shared with government leaders and our community.

New Orleans City Councilman, District A, Joe Giarrusso talks about the importance of the city budget at #ODD2019 in New Orleans

On the other side of the world, in Serbia, civil society organization „Center for education and transparency – CETRA“ arranged a local educational event for around 30 citizens and media representatives in the city of Pančevo. With the intent to celebrate Open data day 2019, we hosted a informal lecture „Open for open data“ in a local coffee shop, which took place on March the 16th. Given that the concept of open data is not yet widespread and familiar in Serbian ecosystem, this was the opportunity to promote the concept by distributing a manual-brochure that explains how can open data be used in local governments but also what is the added value that it brings in terms of saving money, time and energy for our citizens. Since “CETRA” is one of the pioneers among civil society organizations to work on opening data in Serbian municipalities, we presented our experience about the process to the participants, but also took the opportunity to gain valuable insight from the citizens about the data sets they think should be opened in the following period. Currently “CETRA” is participating in a project on opening geo-spatial data sets of 4 Serbian cities, so this community gathering served as a superb chance for promoting the need for more open geo-spatial data initiatives in our country. Mapping geospatial data helps us by showing where things are in the world. If this data is made open, then more people and organisations can build apps, local services and more. Citizens from our city wanted to learn what are the geospatial data sets that can be created and explored, so we presented variety of examples, from databases on the national road network to databases on mineral deposits, storage of hazardous materials, population estimates, neighborhood demographics. Our community also had the chance to be presented with the existence of national open data portal in Serbia, which can be found on the following address:https://data.gov.rs/en/ . Important remarks came from some of our fellow citizens that we should work more on opening data sets from our own city of Pančevo and that is something that we will focus on in the future.

Residents and media representatives from the city of Pančevo attending the “Open for open data” event

Open Data Day in Tanzania and Serbia: using open data to educate, inform and create stories

- April 13, 2018 in development, Open Data Day, open data day 2018, Open Mapping, serbia, tanzania

Authors: Rehema Mtandika (She Codes for change) and Katarina Kosmina (SEE ICT) – their biographies can be found below this post. This blog is part of the event report series on International Open Data Day 2018. On Saturday 3 March, groups from around the world organised over 400 events to celebrate, promote and spread the use of open data. 45 events received additional support through the Open Knowledge International mini-grants scheme, funded by Hivos, SPARC, Mapbox, the Hewlett Foundation and the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office. The events in this blog were supported through the mini-grants scheme under the Equal Development and Open Mapping themes.

How we approached data

She Codes for Change trained 27 young girls aged 15-19 from Secondary Schools in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania on the basic concepts of data visualization, Scratch and photography. We guided them to work on groups to identify social challenges and then use open data to create data-driven animation videos stories to educate the society on the challenge. Our aim was to inspire young girls to understand the concept of open data and innovation, and how to apply them to transform their imaginations into visual products, altogether as the mechanism to solve their societal problems. In the end, each group consisting of 5 members was guided to create their datasets, and worked upon their interested social challenge. The issues worked upon were violence against children, early marriages, gender based violence, school dropout and HIV/AIDS among adolescents. The final products were presented, and then uploaded on the She Codes for Change YouTube channel.

She Codes for Change Team with participants during Open Data Day

SEEICT/Startit is an NGO which has eight Startit centers across Serbia, with the aim of educating, empowering and connecting youth and the tech community in the country. Our plan to organize open mapping events in two smaller towns in Serbia got hindered by a lack of demand and local capacity for this type of activities. Instead, with the help of UNDP in Serbia, we managed to organize a Datathon in Serbia’s capital, Belgrade, where teams worked with four mentors on data visualization projects using open datasets. The winning team mapped all elementary and high schools across Belgrade using a dataset from the Ministry of Education. They then scraped data about the locations of betting shops, given that Serbian law forbids betting shops to be closer than 200 meters from schools. This project resulted in a map of Belgrade showing over 70 betting shops which are breaking the law. Additionally, the other three teams also created visualizations which involved: optimizing the placement of police patrols and emergency vehicles for better response to car accidents, mapping bad driving habits across time and municipalities of Serbia, and showing the connectedness of public transportation in Belgrade.

Overcoming obstacles

Since the She Codes for Change proposal was not selected in the first round by the Open Data Team, our team had work on last minute preparations in order to have the logistics in place including sending invitation to schools, push and make follow up with their administrations for the timely permissions for students to attend. Given that it was Startit’s first time organizing a Datathon and that we decided to make it a 12 hour challenge focused on visualization, we had no idea what could come out of it. In fact, we doubted if we would end up with even 1-2 working visualizations. Given the pilot/experimental nature of this event, plus the short time frame we had to plan and execute it, we struggled with social media promotion, using personal contacts and finding other ways to animate the Serbian IT community to join this endeavour. In addition, we knew that the datasets published by the government are often messy, incomplete, and inconsistent. Hence, there was a legitimate fear that the teams would end up spending most of those 12 hours cleaning data instead of analyzing and visualizing it. Fortunately, we had four fantastic mentors and the teams chose their datasets wisely, with only one team extensively struggling with their chosen datasets.

What did we learn?

She Codes for Change’s major lesson is that data finding and visualization is not a complex phenomenon if taught at an early stage. Since students are not taught much in school about data, many students in the training first thought that data is complicated and not important, however, after understanding the basic concepts and worked together to design a product for its visualization, they realized that data can help them and communities to address their challenges and make informed decisions. Similar to the experience of She Codes for Change, as the Startit team, we realized how empowering creating data-based visualizations can be for teams participating in the Datathon – whether they’re high schoolers, students, or IT professionals. An even more striking realisation is the fact that messy government datasets can become stories which are able to inform the participants, reveal illegal activities or public policy options, and inspire new ideas.

How can we make data storytelling in Tanzania and Serbia more sustainable?

The She Codes for Change team has launched weekly Scratch trainings in Mid-March, which incorporates open data to help our beneficiaries to identify the challenges, and use the data/information available to design and produce products to satisfy the market needs. These trainings are carried out on Tuesday and Thursday of every week. Startit’s blog team Startit.rs is currently in the process of writing blog posts about each of the Datathon participating team projects. We hope these stories will not only motivate the wider public to use open datasets, but also think beyond their messiness and incompleteness, as well as combine them with other data in innovative ways. Additionally, we hope future Datathons will continue to inspire data scientists and enthusiasts to use data visualization for storytelling.

Winning project in Startit’s Datathon – Realistic and abstract map of illegally placed betting shops in Belgrade

Data for stories, maps and education

These two initiatives in. Their outputs may have been different as She Codes for Change resulted in data driven animations, while Startit’s Datathon created data visualizations which sought to reveal illegalities, optimize policies or inform a wider audience. She Codes for Change’s goal was achieved and as a result of the training they were able to create five animation videos that are data driven and informative on the gender, education and health matters. The Open Data Day training has also enabled us to create a platform of motivated young girls to create innovative solutions to the community challenges, hence providing an opportunity for them to raise their voices. As the number of open datasets available to the public in Serbia increases, Startit plans to enable teams of young data scientists to use the power of data storytelling to continue informing and educating the wider public on the relevance and impact of data.

Author bio’s

Rehema Mtandika is a Director of Innovation at She Codes for Change. For over three years she has been working with youths and women in areas of gender empowerment through ICT and innovation, youth engagement in the social-economic development, access to quality education, access to data and information, good governance and peace and security. Katarina Kosmina is the Programme Coordinator at SEE ICT, in charge of developing and organizing programs for 8 Startit Centers across Serbia. These programmes range from programming robots for girls or IoT workshops for high schoolers, thematic hackathons, meetups and workshops for individuals in the IT sector, as well as acceleration programs and data or IP clinics for startups. Our goal is to bring quality and free informal education, as well inspire and empower Serbian youth to enter the IT sector and continue expanding their knowledge and skills. Katarina’s passion for open data and data driven decision-making has led to an increased number in programs which aim at raising the level of data literacy in Serbia.