Let’s Talk Data: Lessons learnt building civic tech solutions

Speakers: Harvey Binamu (Magamba Network), Sarah Findlay (Africa Data Hub)

Summary

This session was all about data as two speakers discussed the lessons they have learned building tech solutions. Harvey Binamu began the conversation by walking us through the journey of the Magamba Network, an organisation that uses creative forms of youth activism to open up democratic spaces in Zimbabwe. They are concerned with how to get data to citizens. By taking data and transforming it into visuals, they have been able to bring out interesting narratives and start conversations that would not be facilitated by raw data alone.

Sarah Findlay then continued the conversation by outlining Africa Data Hub’s (ADH) journey. ADH aims to lower barriers that journalists in Africa face. Findlay explained that there’s a major data gap in Africa as data sets are often hard to locate, retrieve, and analyse or in some cases, it doesn’t even exist. There is also a lack of capacity, time and skills to clean, analyse and use data in journalism. In response to these challenges, ADH is trying to open up data sets that are inaccessible (one example of this is their Inflation Observer), build capacity and training for data-storytelling for African journalists and building a community of journalists who work with data that can support each other.

Binamu and Findlay both outlined the many lessons they have learned:
– Begin. It won’t be perfect, and you may not have all the resources, but just start and build from there. Even if it doesn’t work, you’ll get helpful feedback.
– Do it badly because “if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly”.
– Be human-centred. It is important to remember who you’re building these tools and visualisations for and be impact focused.
– “Keep it stupid simple”. It can be tempting to build complex solutions but keeping it straightforward and simple will lead to more user engagement.
– Be like water – flexible. Hold tightly to your mission but be willing to shift and pivot when your approach is not working.
– Data is the foundation. Developing tools and visualisation isn’t the problem, it’s the lack of data in Africa. Addressing this has to be the starting point.
– Collaboration can be difficult but equally as powerful. While trust building takes time, the quality of solutions from a diverse team are superior.

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