Wednesday, 07 Aug 2013

Forget big data, the future belongs to small data

By Eva Constantaras, Internews in Kenya.

If your biggest data-access problem so far has been extracting data from PDFs, just wait until we put you on a matatu (mini-bus) and send you to a remote Kenyan village to track down the tribal leader who records births and deaths in a notepad with a #2 pencil. 

Open data has a whole different definition in Kenya and developers have a chance to change the way the Kenyan media reports the news by encouraging data- driven instead of politically-driven journalism.  Access is a huge issue: from gathering data held by traditional tribal leaders, to reluctant county administrations to NGOs that have been waiting for someone to come along and make use of the years of data they have collected on everything from female genital mutilation to the impact of progressive farming techniques on food security. 

Creating a system to manage that data is the next hurdle, one that the Kenya Open Data Initiative has been struggling with for the last two years and Internews is circumventing by putting data sets straight up on our website.  We get data shared via Dropbox, sent over in print reports, scraped from scattered ministerial websites and passwords slipped to us for closed databases.  Add to that a brand new Constitution that has completely changed the way the national Budget is distributed and has yet to be tracked.  And we need help bringing order to the chaos.

And of course, we produce rockin’ stories amidst the chaos.  Check out the Data Dredger for our first large-scale push for data visualization to make its way into the Kenyan media.  We’ve stepped it up and are now tracking the map the flow of aid money from Europe  to Kenya and multinational extractive industry profits from Kenya to Europe, identify where these interests collide, document their effects on the development agenda through narrative and video storytelling and explore proposals for harmonizing development and private investment efforts.  For phase two, we need help building a national database of land ownership data to help bring to light displacement and illegal land acquisition that is at the root of inequality and conflict in Kenya.

But back to the guy with the #2 pencil.  Our village data project is a looking at how to harmonize big data and traditional information channels and data collectors in Kenya.  We want you to be a part of a multimedia team that goes into a village to conduct research and develops an interactive presentation of community data collection and the people behind the data points.  So we will look at what data the community tracks: school attendance, crop yields, migration and compare it to Big Data sets to understand how rural Kenya is changing and evolving.  We’ll also document our exploration though multi-media storytelling.

Kenya is a regional leader in the tech space so the skills you bring to Internews will be shared across the vibrant tech community that calls Nairobi home.  Through hackathons, workshops and conferences, we will make sure that all the open source tools and projects that you develop with our team strengthen data journalism skills among developers, graphic designers and journalists across the country, not just at Internews.  And we promise to be right by your side when the matatu rolls from the curb.


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