Partnering with Internews
As part of its objectives to boost global data literacy, Open Knowledge International’s School of Data often partners with other organisations working in the field of open data, to train their staff or help develop their data journalism training methodologies. The School of Data’s consultations and trainings are targeted at increasing analytical, evidence-based reportage by introducing journalists and CSOs to the appropriate range of digital tools, ways to access data, and the necessary computational skills, to transform their ways of storytelling.
In 2013, Internews, an international non-profit organisation focused on media development, partnered School of Data to develop a data journalism training methodology for their newly established Data Journalism Fellowship program. Internews’ primary goal is to empower local media and to give communities in developing countries a voice. Internews trains both media professionals and citizen journalists, introducing them to innovative media solutions and encouraging the coverage of vital issues. While much of their work in the past has been focused on conventional mass media, in the last few years Internews has also started to expand into the online and data journalism spheres.
Eva Constantaras, based in Kenya, is a Google data journalism scholar and the Data Journalism Advisor for Internews. At Internews, Constantaras is responsible for providing data journalism training to journalists in developing countries using open data and other data sources. She explains that Internews also aims to grow communities around open data and data journalism in developing countries.
“We try to grow communities around open data - whether they be journalists, developers or civil society groups - and try and get them to collaborate in different ways, so that they can produce data journalism despite the limited resources in developing countries,”
Constantaras added that through growing such communities and encouraging data journalism, Internews hopes to educate communities on key local issues, provide citizens with better information to improve decision making, impact policy makers to improve governance and transparency, and fight corruption.
Developing a data journalism training methodology
In June 2013, Constantaras approached the School of Data on behalf of Internews to enquire about the School of Data’s upcoming data expeditions for the working group on data journalism that she was trying to set up in their Nairobi office. For some time she had been following the progress of the School of Data’s data expeditions, and she felt that they would be the perfect way to encourage the group of international journalists to collaborate and produce data-driven stories.
Prior to this, Constantaras had already found School of Data’s work extremely useful in the development of a data journalism fellowship program that she was launching for Internews in Nairobi. Compared to other data journalism resources available, she found the free of charge tutorials and courses on School of Data’s website to be the most accessible and broad enough to be applicable in the varying social contexts of different developing countries.
“A lot of the data journalism training materials that I found were targeted at a much more western audience, while the School of Data had more generic and accessible materials. So, from the lessons, I could take parts of it and develop my own local training modules using Kenyan data,”
Later, after discussions with Constantaras, a data expedition was organised in Nairobi by the School of Data for the group of journalists that she had selected for her new data journalism team. It was held at the end of a week long data journalism bootcamp to encourage collaboration and give participants the necessary practical experience. The majority of the ten participants had no background in data journalism.
Constantaras explains that the trainers from the School of Data were well prepared and ran the data expedition with a focus on Malaria data, one of the two main areas of focus for Internews’ Kenyan data journalism projects.
“Our funding is to improve data journalism in a couple of specific areas, and malaria is our weakest area. For the data expedition, Michael [from School of Data] had checked out what we had already done in that area, and found some suitable data sets ahead of time. He then came in and ran the expedition using those data sets and later we searched for some of them ourselves,”
Constantaras also appreciated the versatility of the data expedition model, and found it very useful as the final activity of the data journalism workshop, as it provided participants with real hands on, practical experience, and helped them to bring together all that they had learnt in the bootcamp.
“I found the data expedition to be an excellent activity on the last day of the bootcamp. The bootcamp was set up to be very practical where they were taught a lot of technical skills over the period of a week, and the data expedition really forced them use those skills, collaborate and produce something,”
Constantaras continued that the data expeditions also helped participants work through the common hurdles of a data investigation, especially in the developing world context, like “scarcity of data” and “difficulty in establishing relationships among datasets”. She said that apart from the skills and tools introduced at the data expedition, it was the “team building” aspect of the expedition that they found really valuable. She explains that this is one of the major challenges they faced trying to set up a data journalism team for Internews in Kenya.
“Getting them to work together as a team was one of major hurdles for us. Journalists here are very used to working on their own. The data expedition was a really good team building activity, and a practical way to get them working together to produce a project, at the end of a more conventional training course. It definitely jump started them working as a team,”
Constantaras said that the “collaborative model” of data expeditions had been so useful that it had transformed their way of working. Previously, she said, they had been a bit “siloed”, with team members dividing up the work and dealing with them individually.
“Before we would have one person search for the data, and then hand it to another person to do the analysis, etc. We really liked this model of actually working together, brainstorming and coming up with hypotheses - it was this sort of collaborative model that was most useful to our work,”
Constantaras believes that when trainees engage with global data journalism communities, such as “School of Data and Hack Hackers”, “they are much more likely to become local leaders in data journalism”. She also said that through the introduction of data expeditions into their trainings, she hoped that the working groups formed by participants would result in lasting relationships and a growth of data journalism communities in developing countries.
“Our approach has now shifted a little, from trying to prepare individual data journalists, to growing a community, so that they can collaborate on these projects. Data expeditions have been a really good activity to get them working together and we hope those relationships are maintained after the training is over,”
Constantaras says that she has incorporated the School of Data’s data expedition model permanently into all of the data journalism bootcamps that she runs. At the time of interview, she said she had recently run successful data expeditions in Kenya, China, the U.S. and Afghanistan.
Constantaras concluded that the School of Data’s informal but effective approach makes them “one of the easiest partners to work with”, and looks forward to more collaborations in the future.