Not quite the 60 that was expected but 54 participants from all of Africa were drilled in the discipline of data journalism at a three-day Data Journalism Boot Camp which preceded this year’s conference.

Craig Hammer of the World Bank Institute’s Global Media Development program coordinated the rigorous schedule which was fuelled and delivered by experts in media, statistics, computer programming and development issues.

“The goal of the training is to be able to provide the public with the kind of information they need to make better decisions on a daily basis; something they can use to provide informed feedback to government,” Hammer said.

The workshop participants were put to work in groups focusing on governance, health, education, and business and information communication technology for development.

In an extremely limited amount of time each team was asked to apply the skills to generate data news stories, or applications with developmental imperatives.

Some of the suggested projects include a portal providing access to information on health institutions in the Eastern Cape; an education portal that displays matric results; an application that will help track down stolen livestock; and an application that monitors government expenditure.

“We’re starting to see realistic projects that can be achieved,” said Justin Arenstein, who works with Google and the African Media Initiative to improve use of data in Africa’s newsrooms.

Arenstein outlined how, in an age of information saturation, the pressure is on for journalists to create engaging content adapted to fit the needs of evolving media consumers.

Arenstein believes that in three to five years, hardware will have become so lightweight and automated that we will barely notice it interfacing between us and the physical realm. In this kind of world, the onus is on us as proponents of democracy and development to keep pace.

“If we can craft narrative around good quality data, it provides a window into government processes,” said Hammer.

Friedrich Lindenburg of the Open Knowledge Foundation then conducted some practical exercises in scraping data from sources which are often overlooked by journalists. Award winning data journalist Caelainn Barr demonstrated simple methods using Microsoft Excel to manipulate the gathered data and generate stories.

Referring to untapped government databases available in many countries, Barr said that “we can’t ask for more transparency until we use what has already been provided.”

Highway Africa director Chris Kabwato brought boot camp to a close with a commitment to continuing the workshop in the future.

Story by Harry Davies and Emeka Umejei

For pictures, links and more information about what was covered, visit the workshop’s dedicated website at http://southafricadatabootcamp.org/

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