Data Summer Camp with Global Activists, Designers, and Technologists.

August 7, 2013

We are excited to present another guest blog post, this time from Max Richman. Over the last year and a half, Max has participated in DataKind events as first-time volunteer at DC's first DataDive, as a continuing DataCorp team member with DC Action for Children, a Data Ambassador at the World Bank DataDive, and as a conference attendee representing DataKind at the 2012 International Crisis Mappers Conference Digital Humanitarian Network (DHN) disaster simulation.

During the last week of June 2013, Max represented DataKind at Info-Activism Camp 2013, a week-long conference for activists, technologists, designers, and all manner of data-do-gooders organized by Tactical Technology Collective at the beautiful Centro d'Ompio retreat facility above Lake Orta just north of Milan, Italy. Not too shabby for someone who started as a DataKind walk-in volunteer.

In the below blog post he talks about his experiences at Camp. Enjoy!

 

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Ahh summer. The long nights, the warm days. Arts and crafts. Lake swimming. Fleeting new best friends forever. Too bad they're all just distant memories now. Well, at least I thought those days were long gone before spending the last week of June with the amazing team from Tactical Technology Collective as a participant-facilitator at Info-Activism Camp 2013: Evidence & Influence.

Since we all love data, here are some figures about the camp (link is to a great summary infographic from Jake Levitas):

  • 134 attendees from 46 countries spanning 6 continents. For many it was their first foreign trip.
  • 1 in 3 attendees were tapped to be initial facilitators for sessions. By camp end, most participants had become facilitators themselves leading various sessions and skillshares.
  • 3 in 4 attendees English was not their first language.
  • 3 in 4 attendees had facilitated or led their own workshops before.
  • Participants were hot to learn about data visualization and security. They were keen to share their advocacy, campaigning, and organizing strategies and tactics.
  • 0 dishes serving meat (but one carnivorous off-site BBQ!).
  • 11-hour days jammed packed with sessions, skillshares, and good times.

 

So why did we do this?
More new tools, techniques, and data sources are at the finger tips of activists than ever before, but how are they best used?

 

How did we do it?
Provide a structural scaffolding for participants to self-organize to give and get as much from other participants as they want, but not over-proscribe the content.

 

What did we do?
Spend lots of time together learning new tips, tricks, and tactics and in the process build a network of information savvy activists and associates to continue to support one another.

My fellow Data Wrangler Lab co-facilitators Nick, Thej and Ethan spent our first two afternoon sessions providing some foundational concepts & techniques for manipulating data. Day 1 covered, “Data Alchemy,” where we talked about magical tools we can use to create “clean data,” and then broke into groups to turn text data into structured data using spreadsheet software and regular expressions. On Day 2, “How to Lie with Data” we learned how to work backward from an infographic to see the many different stories one can read from the same set of data.

Days 4 and 5 were less structured and more participant-interest driven. It was made all the better by super-star camp participants agreeing to join us as facilitators. In particular, Lucy Chambers from the Open Knowledge Foundation School of Data tag-teamed for two great sessions. First we matched up needs and skills to understand where in the data processing pipeline 1) Took the most time 2) Was the most difficult & 3) something new that someone wanted to try out. We then broke into two teams one focused on databases and the other on statistical analysis. On Day 5, I'm pleased to report, I was able to join my very Data Expedition as a Data Sherpa. After battling the fire-breathing dragon-horse, I even got a T-Shirt! Thanks Lucy for the shirt, Juan from Escuela de Datos for the photo documentation, and Murray for sharing his amazing work in South Africa as case studies!

 

How can we make it even better?
One of the most successful aspects of a DataKind DataDive is the extensive effort spent before an event to prepare partner research questions and the data. Not only are organizations interviewed, screened, and selected, but Data Ambassadors spend weeks, sometimes months investigating the research interest of partner organizations and the data available to them. Without a lot of first-hand information about the Info-Activism participants and their interests, it was hard to be able to really hit the ground running. It's naturally part of the camp model for people to bounce off of one another until they refine their needs and identify someone who can help them, but I wonder if there might be some ways to do that more explicitly and early-on in camp.

 

What did I take away?
The event blew me away. The participants were incredible, inspiring, and intimidatingly impressive. My biggest take-aways were 1) Facilitation is hard and super important. TTC Camp '13 was like a crash masterclass in facilitation. I particularly learned loads at the facilitator debriefs each evening after dinner. 2) Wow, I really didn't know how much I didn't know about information security. Do yourself a HUGE favor and check out TTC's Security in a Box resources: https://securityinabox.org/. Also, and it's not just because I'm writing this blog post from Verona, but I think I'm now able to teach my parents about encryption using the story of Romeo and Juliet thanks to TTC Camp 2013.