Open Data Workshop, Chennai, part 1

August 5, 2012 § 1 Comment

The last 3 days I attended the Open Data Workshop run at IFMR by Transparent Chennai, in Chennai. In the next few blogposts are some of my scribbled notes.

The facilitators are: Shashank Srinivasan, Sumandro Chattapadhyay, Sajjad Anwar.

Some online maps/campaigns they find interesting: … which leads us to Voice of Kibera – biggest slum in the world, in Kenya, with no real maps on googlemaps. This project developed tools for people there to submit info that could be added to a map of the slum. Kibera got a presence on the web and attracted a lot of activists, gave them ideas for things to do. Last month the slumdwellers were ordered to be evicted. Some points raised in the discussion about this:

  • “The project taught people how to overcome their stage fear” – Sajjad
  • Having a web presence doesn’t necessarily mean the data has become open – because many people (e.g. most of the slumdwellers themselves) don’t have internet access.

A big focus of the workshop is on “open data.” I want to ask if “open data” is always good. As I’m thinking this, Sumandro points out that openness may not always be very desirable. It may be their very greyness that protects the slum dwellers. Making Kibera visible on the web means it is no longer “out of sight, out of mind”…ironically making the data on the slum open empowers the people who are already empowered: the building lobby who want to find the best bits of the slum to flatten and build on. – Comrade Vic is saying this map is google showing off what they can do. – interesting because it can show change over time. – interesting because they use a wide range of data collection techniques. – many uses, including detecting chlorophyll in plants (and therefore plant cover). WWF are looking at this raw image data to assess how wetland cover (water and vegetation) is reducing around a particular lake over a period of time. The Landsat dataset is freely available, e.g. from Maryland University, NASA, and other sources. – -Comrade Vic: but imagine how different it would look if instead of countries/continents it was looking at data per capita, or other dimensions, you would tell a very different story…as it is here, it reinforces the narrative of “Asia is the problem in terms of carbon consumption.” – Insurance companies have used this data to establish insurance premiums, and the city authorities were angry that information about such violent crime was being shown (portraying the city in a negative light)…such consequences have to be thought through before making things like this. – crowdsourced info on water sources in India. Set up in January but so far not much data there: because people don’t see any reason to add to it. So you need actionable items to provide incentives for people to participate in such campaign efforts.

Doing stuff with data

Delhi Digests: Presentation by Francesca from Tactical Tech – “Delhi has these two identities: aspiring to be a major world city, and already a world leader in e-waste recycling. Waste pickers engaged in this industry and public officials working on it as an ‘issue’ have very different perspectives on e-waste. We wanted to present the different narratives on e-waste in Delhi at the same time in the same space, and so came up with a map to do so. Part of the idea was that there are tourist maps of Delhi that show tourist highlights/destinations; we wanted to create an alternative map showing the e-waste highlights of Delhi.” But in doing so they were careful about what information to make available; “If some person makes a livelihood from taking apart electronic items in a slightly illegal way [e.g. using acid to take copper out of a product], we don’t put all the details of that person…Kohinoor Bibi lives in a place that is kind of identifiable but we didn’t give the exact location.” The website “is an aggregate of different materials; there are stop-motion videos where the items are dismantled, audio interviews, text sections featuring the highlights of the Basel Convention to other peoples’ research on e-waste, images and photographic reports of different areas or details of the e-waste-related processes.” They did this for Toxics Link. Toxics Link does a lot of advocacy work, and awareness-raising; they think this could be used in awareness-raising efforts, for example in local schools. “We would like to train Toxics Link staff to use the tools we used to create the website.” It was meant to be “an easy project to engage us for a couple of weeks, but it grew pretty complex…partly because another tool for navigation is a keyword search.” Choice between doing itself and crowd-sourcing: “With the latter it is hard to verify the data.”

Sajjad: The reason we asked Francesca to tell her story was to give you ideas to think about your own work. Here’s a pipeline to think about it. You have a story to tell. You need to figure out the process for doing what you want to do. Then you want to know what kind of data you want to use, how to acquire data. Political message, political effect, depends on your representations (how do you want to show the data, does it make sense to create a map, a graph, a chart, an article) and perspectives (when we work in a team we will have lots of different perspectives on the same story). You can have a campaign by putting this out in various media, and then thinking about actions that actually translate into policies or may or may not introduce change in peoples’ lives. That’s like a pipeline for telling as story using data.


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