bootcamp: an intensive, hands-on training course, using team-based project work, to quickly teach technical skills
The world is opening up, with increasing amounts of information and other data available to the public for analysis, decision-making, and action. But, to harness and act on these new data resources, we need new data wrangling skills.
The ujuzi data bootcamps are designed to give journalists, civic activists, and coders a crash-course in the most important techniques and tools needed to harness open data.
The bootcamps were pioneered by the African Media Initiative (AMI) and the World Bank Institute (WBI) in Kenya, in January 2012, and have since been delivered everywhere from Moldova to South Africa and have resulted in scores of data-driven civic media projects built by participants.
But, the bootcamps are more than just a skills programme: they also seek to change the power dynamic driving the open data revolution. Across much of the world, open data has been driven by governments and large organisations. This has created a supply-driven process that has left much of the public behind.
The ujuzi bootcamps seek to change this by focusing on the other side of the equation – on demand-driven data – where users ranging from civic watchdogs and journalists, to ordinary citizens, set the priorities and identify which data is most important. The bootcamps try to do this through:
Project-based 'data literacy' training, over three-days, where journalists and civic activists are teamed-up with developers and designers to use public data to build experimental civic media apps, websites, or services that empower citizens to better understand the world around them. Each participant is assigned a desktop computer, given access to powerful datasets, and one-on-one mentoring. The programme begins with basic techniques for finding and extracting data from online sources, moving on to using spreadsheets to structure and clean the data, and then tools to visualise or transform the data into narratives that make it easy for the public to understand.
Participants get one-on-one time with some of the world's best data wranglers and data journalists, who take time out of their high-profile jobs to share their insights, tricks of the trade, and technical skills. Trainers have included the heads of Google Fusion Tables, OpenSpending, Upande, ****, Open Institute, and ******.
Right from the beginning, participants self-organize themselves into a series of small teams, each focused on a theme or project that they develop into a fully-fledged data-driven narrative by the end of the three-day workshop. Participants work with real data, on a real news project, in a team made up of journalists, developers, and designers, with one-on-one tuition from global experts. They get immediate, and ongoing, constructive feedback both from team-mates and mentors, as well as the larger bootcamp, through daily report-backs and critiques. Many projects built during bootcamps are formally adopted and rolled out by newsrooms after the event.
The bootcamps recognise that prototypes built during the workshops will need resources and ongoing support if they are to be deployed in the real-world. Participants are therefore eligible for seed grants, as prizes, for their best ideas. They also receive ongoing technical advice and support for refining their prototypes, and are eligible for follow-up grants from AMI if their projects find a home in a major newsroom.
But, new ideas need more than just money and technical support to succeed. They also need a community of supporters, collaborators, and champions. All bootcamp participants are encouraged to join their local chapter of HacksHackers, which bring together journalists (hacks) with technologists (hackers) for monthly meet-ups and skills exchanges on ways to change how the media gathers, reports, and then disseminates the news.