Open Data Workshop, Chennai, part 4 – form vs content

August 8, 2012 § Leave a comment

Yesterday I had a brief chat with one of the participants of the Open Data Workshop, and one point came out that I wanted to share here given that I have written a series of posts about the workshop. This point could be summarised as the debate over form vs content. This participant recounted how she had a private conversation with one of the facilitators of the workshop about what she wants to do with maps – she wanted to ask him which of the online tools we had learned about might be appropriate to the task, and how to go about it. After her explanation, he said, “You should probably just use paper maps to do that.”

That’s fine – but I think that something we can take from this episode is that while the main sessions of the workshop packed in a huge amount of information on maps, mapping, data (quantitative, qualitative, spatial), and tools for managing, cleaning, using, calculating with and visualising data, this focus on form sometimes meant that the content – what the workshop participants actually wanted to do with data – slipped out of focus.

This is not necessarily a problem: probably all of us should have taken the opportunity to have a private conversation with one or more of the facilitators about what we wanted to do with data. I didn’t, for two main reasons: 1) In the project I’m working on we haven’t quite reached the point of getting all the data we want to work with, and 2) I know I have Comrade Vic (a pseudonym) to whom I can ask these questions later.

But, as this participant noted, there should have been a bit more discussion of our specific projects, if only to give some real examples which could be the focus of discussions about content: how to decide what data you need, where to get data, how to get data, how to establish relationships between different variables, how to use data ethically.

This comment on something we felt was absent from the workshop does not in any way negate the many positive things that were present in the workshop. All in all the workshop was really useful for me, and because of the workshop I now have a much better sense of what the possibilities are with the project I am working on.

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