When we look around the Georgian civil society and media landscape, we are more concerned about what we do not see than what we do. There is a litany of reports and lengthy issue analyses, and ultimately some will reach an audience that reads them. Even fewer motivate an audience to do something.
What we do not see are other means to engage people around issues that initiate discussion and motivate action. Outside of Georgia we see many attempts, sometimes experimental, to go beyond just words to draw attention to a wide variety of social, political, environmental and human rights issues.
These attempts often take the form of graphics with a broad spectrum of interactivity that convey information that words and numbers alone cannot, and allow people to explore a topic in novel ways. This method often reaches a wider audience than text alone would have.
We seek funding to implement a 12-month project that augments current discussions about local issues with online data visualizations, both static and interactive, in a way that few NGOs in Georgia, if any, can. Journalism at its core, we bring to the table our data analysis, code and design skills we have honed in previous projects to add value to issues that matter to Georgians today.
The overarching goals of this project are to increase public conversation around important issues, increase the quality and frequency of computer-assisted/data journalism and storytelling, put facts before rumour, and increase the demand for more open, accessible, and relevant data and innovation critical to understanding the important issues in Georgia.
There are five main components to this project:
- media analysis (what are and are not the media discussing), convening people on a regular basis to gauge what issues are important at any given moment, and choosing which of those are actionable (editorial process);
- gathering, cleaning, validating and repositing data relevant to the issues about which we will design our data visualizations and stories;
- analysing the data to find the story;
- designing the visualizations and stories and publishing them on a dedicated site; and
- distributing the visualizations and stories widely; using them to advocate for more data, better data, better use of data, and increase awareness, momentum, and excitement around new ways to deliver news and convey messages among stakeholders, including journalists, NGOs, government agencies, designers, and coders.
Media Analysis, Convening People, and Filtering the News
We’ll analyze the main media outlets daily to see what news journalists are and are not reporting. Using RSS feeds, Google Alerts, video streaming, and other methods, we’ll be able to quickly scan and process the news from a variety of news organizations of varying slants from both in Tbilisi and the regions.
We will meet with people who have their finger on the pulse of what is happening and important in Georgian society right now. This will be a regular and constant activity and the source by which we choose what data and information to seek out and explore. In addition to this, we will establish regular meetups to solidify a mechanism of gathering information about what is important at any given moment.
We will select issues and stories that we think are actionable. This process will be part of both an internal editorial process and input from selected relevant individuals.
Getting the Data
While we are always looking for data to explore and use, for this project we will seek out data relevant to the topics we glean from meetups and discussions about what is important now in Georgia.
We have learned well that relying on a single source for data is risky. We will reach out to organizations and agencies we know to hold information related to our stories, but we will not settle with one source. Similar data often resides in more than one agency’s possession and we will approach each one.
We also will build a platform to record and store data we aggregate ourselves in the process of analyzing the media. Using the Ruby on Rails Web framework, very similar to the Washington Post’s Django platform, we intend to internalize what Adrian Holovaty intended in creating Django by avoiding the ‘lost opportunity’:
If all of your information is stored in the same "news article" bucket, you can't easily pull out just the crimes and plot them on a map of the city. You can't easily grab the events to create an event calendar. You end up settling on the least common denominator: a Web site that knows how to display one type of content, a big blob of text. That Web site cannot do the cool things that readers are beginning to expect.
The goal is to be able to have a baseline of information that we can draw on when necessary that either does not reside anywhere else or by which we might compare official data.
The data will be cleaned if necessary, validated, and then stored publicly for use in our designs. The data will be formatted relevant to its content, but always in open and standard formats, such as xml, json, xlsx, et al. and accessible via our open API.
Exploring the Data and Finding the Story
With data in hand, we will begin analysing it for trends, outliers and anything that adds dimensions to the issues we want to explore and which we think are newsworthy. These elements are the crux around which the story emerges.
Creating the Graphics
Once a particular choice is made on the story or message, we will design a meaningful visual interpretation. This might be a static infographic, but more interestingly and Web-oriented, it might be interactive and/or exploratory. Even with a particular angle, often it is important to create a way for people to explore the data. Either way, it leads to the opportunity to visualize the data and or create tools to explore it in meaningful ways.
Once we have created the design, we will publish it to a dedicated site, not unlike David McCandless’ Information is Beautiful.
Our goal is that our interactive visualizations will rely on the same API that we would have others use. By using our own API as a service, we will enhance its usability by others.
Spreading the Word
Crucial to the success of this project is that people see the visualizations and explore the data. We cannot challenge journalists to improve their storytelling if they are not aware of the work we are doing. Similarly, if we are unable to inspire people to want to do similar work, the demand for data will not increase.
For each visualization and tool we design, we will meet with relevant stakeholders - NGOs, businesses, government agencies, schools and journalists - to discuss not just the issue at hand, but how and why we approached it the way we did. We will also use meetups or a similar forum to do the same thing. In addition, we will use our newsletter and social media outlets to disseminate our work as widely as possible.
Both by initially convening people in-the-know and by follow-up meetings and shoutouts, we will gain an audience to advocate for more quality data-driven news, increased awareness of how access to data plays an important role in informing the public, and increasingly innovative ways to deliver messages and stories.
- A datastore that will be the source (API) for the graphics we design, as well as a highly robust and flexible information recording platform ready to meet our needs even as they change.
- A website where our designs will be published with space for commentary and discussion. Each graphic will be shareable and embeddable so that others may use it. We will track traffic and usage (who is using our graphics).
- Approximately 4 visualizations a month.
- Ongoing blogs about the tech behind the stories/graphics.
- Weekly meetups centered on what’s happening in Georgia that is important to people.