A talk about data journalism in Uganda.

Since last year when I started working on an Open Data Project at Fruits of Thought and hanging out a lot with the School of Data folk, I have felt strongly about building a data community in Uganda. Data community? Yes, this would be a group of people that meet regularly to work with open data: clean, analyze, explore different data tools, visualize the data, draw insight from or get nerdy with programming around data or building applications or just talk- sometimes talking brings out the most amazing ideas. Some of these ideas have been inspired by my friends at School of Data- Thank you so much for showing me that this is do-able!

So, about two weeks ago, I saw the first of what we’ve termed “local data days” happen. We want these to be monthly events that happen every last Friday of the month. We’ll be meeting to discuss a range of topics like data journalism, basic design principles, data visualization, knowledge creation and sharing, mapping, programming, basic statistics, data analysis, explore some data tools like Scraper Wiki to get volunteers to scrape PDFs of all the data that’s ‘locked’ in there. Community(Ugandans) should be at the core of all this, so we’ve invited the community to tell us what they’d want to share on- I am keeping my hopes up that it sparks some interest in the possible (open)data lovers out there.

We kicked off the local data days with a focus on “Data Journalism”. We had a mix of journalists and programmers plus a few curious people in the house. We learned basic R for data analysis and visualization but it turned out that the R learning curve was a bit steep, we should have chosen a simpler tool perhaps- positive criticism right there! We had our focus on the education sector- unfortunately the visualized data painted a grim picture. It was amazing what questions journalists and programmers can come up with when in the same room, for example “how do you make the map interactive?”, “why use a map instead of a graph, pie-chart or word cloud?”

At a glance- what stood out from the discussion. Via jasondavies.com

At a glance- what stood out from the discussion.

We also had sometime to discuss what the status of data journalism is in Uganda, the challenges and what the work around was for this. Data journalism has not taken off in Uganda- not that much. Some of the proof is in one of the local daily news paper that publishes tabular data that sometimes spans several pages(resource appropriation gone bad?). This data is numerical, focusing on administrative levels and themed to sectors like education, law & order, culture, health, employment, consumer goods and prices. It is totally possible to constructively compress this data and give the huge tables some context. This is just one example of a data journalism time ‘bomb’- where is the good switch? One journalist impressed me when she said, in the news room, she had to learn statistics and maths in order to work on her stories, there was no one to do it and it all depends on how passionate and self driven one is as a journalist- she was up for the programming meet-up in this series of local data days. When I asked about the challenges of writing data backed stories, it all boiled down to a data skills deficiency.

My take-away from this meet-up was that our journalists know what needs to be done in the data journalism space in Uganda but need some support in the area of training. I hope that these regular meet-ups will work toward closing some of the skills gap for the local journalists. Looking forward to ‘hotter’ stories from Uganda’s news rooms, going forward. :-). I am glad that some of them are already working with the datasets from data.ug for their projects.

A week later, Europe was a buzz with the biggest data journalism event in the region. It started with a few interesting tweets on my timeline- I ended up at #ijf14.