The first tears (of joy) ever shed at a School of Data workshop

Fundacja Fenomen is a small, volunteer driven NGO in Łódź, Poland. Their mission is to raise people’s awareness that they are crucial participants in government, and not only the subject of government activity, particularly for participatory budgeting in the city. With no full-time staff members, the members of the organisation knew they wanted help with their data skills, to present data in a visually engaging way and to show where money was spent in their city. They needed results fast, as their members couldn’t afford to spend huge amounts of time learning new skills.

Katarzyna, a member of Fundjacja Fenomen, came to Berlin in Spring 2013 for the Wrangling for Watchdogs workshop run by the School of Data. She had a deadline: an upcoming opportunity for citizens of Łódź to participate in decisions around how money is spent in their city, and needed a visual way to capture the imagination of citizens using data, in order to convince them that their participation can actually make a difference.

At the workshop the School of Data team ran a data clinic tackling problems such as converting scanned leaflets into machine-readable form so that they could be mined as text, and creating network diagrams of connections between directors of oil companies.

In the final session of the final day, Katarzyna got her wish: visualising the participatory budget of Łódź. School of Data staff worked with her, showing her how to create a visualisation with OpenSpending. Just fifteen minutes later, there was a prototype.

The participants were then challenged to create a new visualisation on their own, to cement their learning and check that they understood. It was, by that point, nearing the end of the day, and while the participants were completing their final tasks, the School of Data trainers started to tidy up the room. Only then, when we had finished piling up paper, did we look up and notice tears of joy streaming from her face: to her disbelief - she had created the interactive visualisation herself!

We checked in with Katarzyna 6 months after the workshop, and she told us:

  • “I'm preparing right now data for OpenSpending with the city budget proposal for 2014. Adopted city budget for 2013 is already there!”
  • “I started working with timeliner to show how/when my city is building bike infrastructure :-)”
  • I used datawrapper during implementing participatory budget in my city (Phenomenon Foundation was responsible for educational and promotion part). I think we did it well: 908 citizen proposals (each signed by 15 people!); almost 130,000 citizens voting for proposals (we have around 740,000 inhabitants). Also I used Fusion Tables to help people find participatory budget proposals in their neighborhood (eg. citizens propozals from one district).
  • “What is more I started to share knowledge I was given in Berlin :-) Not only with people from Phenomenon but also with other organisations. In 2 weeks time I'm going to Konin (Poland) to teach how to visualise budget…”

With at least 60% of the workshop spent with hands-on time with real projects, every single person left this workshop having advanced at least one of their projects.

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Watch the video to learn more about the Wrangling for Watchdogs workshop.