A couple of weeks back, I was extremely fortunate to participate in a workshop called Data 4 Change which was held in Beirut, Lebanon. DATA4CHAN.GE brings talented people in the visual storytelling community together with human rights organisations that have fascinating original datasets and powerful stories to tell. It is an extraordinary platform for individuals with diverse skillsets from all over the world to get together in one place to build solutions/explore ways to tackle real-life problems faced by HROs and then go on to represent/visualize the problem in a more meaningful way that not only helps the HRO but helps them devise innovative advoacy strategies.   

The initial idea for the DATA4CHAN.GE workshop resulted from a detailed needs analysis of the Iranian and MENA human rights sector’s data driven advocacy output by UK based not-for-profit Small Media in 2014. It revealed that human rights organisations (HROs) in the region collect primary data and had a strong desire to visualise their research, but lacked the skills and access to professionals to do so. It also showed that data visualisation professionals in both MENA and the West were desperate to work on “projects that matter” rather than commercial projects, but that they lacked access to HROs who collected data. As a result DATA4CHAN.GE was created as a workshop where the two sectors could collaborate to create data visualisations aimed at elevating public engagement and effective advocacy, which in turn could bring about real positive change. The DATA4CHAN.GE workshops are organised by Small Media together with leading local partners in the data visualisation field and so far there have been 3 editions in London and Beirut. 

The Workshop:

All participants were divided into six groups: each group contained researchers to collect information about the issue and build a concrete narrative, developers to program and implement technical skill sets required to visualize the data, and graphic designers to beautifully represent the data to the end user in the form of a prototype. For each group there was at least one human rights organization representative who provided ongoing guidance and a sense of what was expected from each team as a final visual product. Each project went through the process of: conceptualization, story-boarding, research, sketching/wire-framing, and finally producing a prototype of the project

I had the absolute privilege of working with the human rights organization, Harass Map during this workshop. 

HarassMap is an award winning volunteer-based initiative founded in late 2010. It is based on the idea that if more people start taking action when sexual harassment happens in their presence, it is possible to end this epidemic. It works to achieve this mission by convincing bystanders and institutions to stand up against sexual harassment before or when they see it happen. By taking a collective stand against sexual harassment, we as a society can create social and legal consequences that discourage harassment in any form. HarassMap has been collecting data on sexual harassment in Egypt through crowd sourcing and often uses art and humour in its work. They also use mapping and other tools when presenting their data. 

Day 1 + Day 2:

Our team consisted of Pudo, me, Ismael, Peter, and Mirna. Alia and Enas were our wonderful HRO representatives.The data set we received from Harass Map had a decade's worth of data with various kinds of incident reports. During Day 2, we scoured through all the reports received from victims and bystanders. In this process, we noticed that bystanders don't tend to help or intervene victims and one thing we hoped to visualize was this lack of compassion. But, who was our target audience? Bystanders, women, or the general public? Our biggest conundrum at the end of this was how to visualize the data to keep women safe and empower them without falling into the whole "blame the victim culture".

Below are a few images from Day 1 and Day 2. 

Day 3 + Day 4: 

We focused our efforts on highlighting the intensity of the narratives expressed by some of the victims, while maintaining their sensitivity.  I worked on the conceptualization of our visualization, the text/copy, as well as the structure of the visualization itself. And, once we got that sorted, I worked with Mirna on the pitch slides as well as the pitch. Usually, in other hackathons I’ve attended, since there is such little time to actually get to know your teammates- lots of misunderstandings tend to develop during the first few hours. We had no such issues overall and our team was a perfect balance of skill-sets. Each person had his/her strengths and managed his/her parts without any issues. And, what I loved about our team was the fact that people were super honest and open with each other. The first day was slightly rough since we each were a little conflicted with which angle to take when tackling a sensitive issue like harassment but after we slept on it and came in fresh the third day, ideas just flowed and surprisingly we all were on the same page! 

Day 5: 

This was pitch day and below is what we presented. 

Some interesting tidbits:

  • We had a great lineup of speakers who presented throughout the days of the workshop which gave participants us bursts of inspiration!
  • Pecha Kucha: We also had during these presentations, participants were encouraged to share tools they used, projects they've worked on, or pretty much anything they thought was interesting. The conditions are that each participant has only seven minutes to present up-to 20 slide, and there is no going back.

What I loved: 

  •  How intimate the group was. In past hackathons I’ve attended, usually the entire group is at least around 90-100 people due to which we don’t really get to know our teammates. Whereas, with D4C, since it’s a much smaller cohort, we actually got to interact with (almost) every individual before we were put into teams.
  • D4C has changed the way I approach work: Every informative session gave us a number of takeaways that we wouldn’t normally learn in a professional workplace. It’s also changed the way I look at visualizations. Now, I'm always thinking of how to make it more meaningful and simpler for the end viewer.
  • It has motivated me to pick up more tools as well as start playing around with more tools (Map-based, etc). I am super grateful to the organizing team for giving me this experience as it's definitely shaped my visualization/analytical skills in a special way. 
  • What an amazing group of people!  I was amazed by each individual I met and I'm still in touch with many of them. I really hope I can meet them again soon. 
  • The fact that learning never stops and every single attendee inspired me to strive for more knowledge + constantly use the skills I pick up to give back in a meaningful way to society

Attending Data 4 Change has definitely changed me as a person. The people, the sessions, and the knowledge I gained have instilled in me a greater desire to keep giving back to society in whatever way possible. This was an experience for me like no other.

43 people, 25 women, 18 men, from 14+ countries (USA, Canada, UK, Italy, Morocco, Palestine, Malaysia, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates)

Six human rights organisations from(1 Sudan, 2 Egypt, 1 Yemen, 2 International)

Five days of creative interdisciplinary collaboration

Six data driven advocacy campaigns created

And, a life-changing 5 days for every person who took part. :)