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Data Activism: data as rhetoric, data as power

ABSTRACT: Contrary to popular beliefs that depict data as truthful or objective, a data activist navigates the data-sphere from an opposite worldview: data is never neutral, and data visualization is inevitably rhetorical. But don’t worry: this is a feature, not a bug. This talk will focus on the many ways in which data can be used for activism, with a particular focus on data-inspired housing rights initiatives like Inside Airbnb and OCIO Venezia, and the works by the information design studio Sheldon.studio. BIO: Alice Corona is a partner and data journalist at Sheldon.studio, Board Member at Inside Airbnb, and Data activist at OCIO Venezia.

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Stories in pixels • Trento • 31/01/2024 • Alice Corona •
alice@sheldon.studio • @alice_corona • alice-corona.eu
Data as rhetoric Data as power
activism
Sheldon.studio
Partner and data journalist
Inside Airbnb
Advisory Board + Chair of the Board of
Directors of Housing Justice Data Lab
OCIO Venezia
(Data) Activist
Freelance Consultant
DATA: CNN Hong Kong, Wetlands Int., Carbon
Tracker Initiative
TEACH: UniBo, Dataninja, UniPr, UniRoma, Digital
Library, Data4Change
PAST EXPERIENCE
I have worked in Amsterdam as lead data journalist at
the startup Silk, and have counselled academia,
NGOs, and businesses on producing data stories.
I have given talks and workshops on data driven
storytelling techniques and best practices at local
and international events.
I have been project lead at Batjo, a Google-funded
project investigating physical data visualizations for
journalists.
I began practicing data journalism in 2012, during a
MA in Communication and Information Sciences at
the University of Tilburg (The Netherlands). I have a
BA degree in Contemporary History at the University
of Siena.
Alice Corona • alice@sheldon.studio • @alice_corona • alice-corona.eu
What is
Data
activism
Data activism, for me, means
Using data to
promote
justice.
Data activism, for me, means
Being conscious
of the limits
of data.
Data activism, for me, means
Returning data
to the
communities.

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Data Activism: data as rhetoric, data as power

  • 1. Data Stories in pixels • Trento • 31/01/2024 • Alice Corona • alice@sheldon.studio • @alice_corona • alice-corona.eu Data as rhetoric Data as power activism
  • 2. Sheldon.studio Partner and data journalist Inside Airbnb Advisory Board + Chair of the Board of Directors of Housing Justice Data Lab OCIO Venezia (Data) Activist Freelance Consultant DATA: CNN Hong Kong, Wetlands Int., Carbon Tracker Initiative TEACH: UniBo, Dataninja, UniPr, UniRoma, Digital Library, Data4Change PAST EXPERIENCE I have worked in Amsterdam as lead data journalist at the startup Silk, and have counselled academia, NGOs, and businesses on producing data stories. I have given talks and workshops on data driven storytelling techniques and best practices at local and international events. I have been project lead at Batjo, a Google-funded project investigating physical data visualizations for journalists. I began practicing data journalism in 2012, during a MA in Communication and Information Sciences at the University of Tilburg (The Netherlands). I have a BA degree in Contemporary History at the University of Siena. Alice Corona • alice@sheldon.studio • @alice_corona • alice-corona.eu
  • 4. Data activism, for me, means Using data to promote justice.
  • 5. Data activism, for me, means Being conscious of the limits of data.
  • 6. Data activism, for me, means Returning data to the communities.
  • 7. Data as rhetoric power Data (viz) is neither objective nor neutral
  • 8. Data as rhetoric power Data (viz) is neither objective nor neutral
  • 9. text How much text? What words to frame the data? Where to put arrows and highlights? Words influence how we interpret the data and chart
  • 10. Data Feminism, Chapter Six - Catherine D’Ignazion & Lauren Klein [Based on the study: “Disparities in Mental Health Referral and Diagnosis in the New York City Jail Mental Health Service.”]
  • 11. Data Feminism, Chapter Six - Catherine D’Ignazion & Lauren Klein [Based on the study: “Disparities in Mental Health Referral and Diagnosis in the New York City Jail Mental Health Service.”]
  • 12. data source What data source? What is counted in the chosen source? How are things being counted? Who is doing the counting? Data are always the result of human decision - subjective or inter-subjective, but never objective.
  • 13. Reporting Sexual Assault: What The Clery Act Doesn’t Tell Us - Patrick Torphy, Michaela Halnon, and Jillian Meehan
  • 14. Reporting Sexual Assault: What The Clery Act Doesn’t Tell Us - Patrick Torphy, Michaela Halnon, and Jillian Meehan
  • 15. data selection What range of the data? Which variables? What to aggregate and through what metric? A data analysis implies choosing what to focus on and what to exclude.
  • 16. GLOBAL LAND-OCEAN TEMPERATURE INDEX 2018 - 2022 Compared to the long-term average from 1951 to 1980 Fonte: NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS)
  • 18. AVERAGE ANNUAL TEMPERATURE BY YEAR 1880 - 2021 Fonte: US NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE
  • 19. chart design How to allocate colors? How to set up the axis and aspect ratio? Which chart type to use? If data is subjective, data selection and aggregation is subjective… there can be no objectivity in a data representation based on these two layers of subjectivity.
  • 20. GLOBAL LAND-OCEAN TEMPERATURE INDEX 2018 - 2022 Compared to the long-term average from 1951 to 1980 Fonte: NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS)
  • 21. AVERAGE ANNUAL TEMPERATURE BY YEAR 1880 - 2021 Fonte: US NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE
  • 22. GLOBAL LAND-OCEAN TEMPERATURE INDEX 2018 - 2022 Compared to the long-term average from 1951 to 1980 Fonte: NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS)
  • 23. GLOBAL LAND-OCEAN TEMPERATURE INDEX 2018 - 2022 Compared to the long-term average from 1951 to 1980 Fonte: NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS)
  • 24. Chart proposal for IPCC 6th assessment report, from a tweet by Ed Hawkins (21/03/2023)
  • 25. Chart proposal for IPCC 6th assessment report, from a tweet by Ed Hawkins (21/03/2023)
  • 26. DATA IS NOT OBJECTIVE, IT IS THE RESULT OF ACTIONS MADE BY HUMANS (INDIVIDUALS OR COMMUNITIES) BASED ON BELIEFS ABOUT WHAT TO COLLECT AND HOW TO COLLECT IT. ANALYZING DATA MEANS DECIDING WHAT IS IMPORTANT TO LOOK AT AND WHAT CAN BE IGNORED. DIFFERENT PEOPLE OR GROUPS OF PEOPLE MIGHT HAVE DIFFERENT POSITIONS ON THIS. VISUALIZING DATA, EVEN IN SCIENTIFIC CONTEXTS, IS AN ACT OF PERSUASION. BUT THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT. DATA IS RHETORIC: OWN YOUR CHOICES!
  • 27. Data as rhetoric power Data (viz) is neither objective nor neutral
  • 28. Library of missing datasets, photo and installation by Mimi Onuoha (2016)
  • 29. María Salguero, Mapa Nacional de los feminicidios en México
  • 30. Opening up open data • mappingdiversity.eu Mapping Diversity - Sheldon.studio & OBCT
  • 34. in progress Including more cities. Running local workshops to foster engagement around the existing or potentially new data.
  • 35. Creating data to counter narratives • insideairbnb.com Inside Airbnb - Murray Cox,activist
  • 44. in progress Shift to a not-for-profit to help sustain the project and the broader mission of housing access and right to the city. Other data to investigate long-term rentals, property ownership and corporate networks. Sustain networks of cities organizing. Country-wide data. Crowdsourced registry or regulations.
  • 45. Alternative data uses for local communities • ocio-venezia.it OCIO Venezia - Activist Collective
  • 53. in progress More Urban Walks for the Reappropriaton of the City (C.U.R.A). Investigating ownership networks. Advocating for a national legislation (Campagna Alta Tensione Abitativa). Not just Airbnb: housing right related to public housing, social housing, and student housing
  • 54. OFFICIAL STATISTICS OFTEN HIDE OR UNDERCOUNT THOSE EXCLUDED FROM POWER. COLLECTING COUNTERDATA CAN BE REVOLUTIONARY IN MAKING SURE THAT THINGS THAT MATTER GET COUNTED. DATA CAN, AND SHOULD, ACTIVATE PARTICIPATORY PROCESSES: TAKE DATA TO THE STREETS, THAT’S ACTUALLY WHERE IT COMES FROM. DATA SHOULDN’T BE JUST FOR NERDS. WORKING WITH DATA DOESN’T HAVE TO BE COMPLEX. DATA (VIZ) IS A MEANS; NOT AN END. DATA IS ABOUT POWER: RECLAIM IT! Stories in pixels • Trento • 31/01/2024 • Alice Corona • alice@sheldon.studio • @alice_corona • alice-corona.eu
  • 55. ■ Bouk, D. (2022). Democracy’s data ■ Cairo, A. (2020). How charts lie: Getting smarter about visual information. ■ D’Ignazio, C., & Klein, L. F. (2020). Data Feminism. ■ D’Ignazio (2023). Counting Feminicide: Data Feminism in Action ■ Graham, M., Dittus M. (2022). Geographies of Digital Exclusion: Data and Inequality ■ Gray, J., & Bounegru, L. (2019). Data Journalism Handbook 2: Towards a Critical Data Practice. References and inspiration ■ Lupton, E., Tobias, J. (2021). Extra Bold: A Feminist, Inclusive, Anti-racist, Nonbinary Field Guide for Graphic DesignersLiving Data ■ Pater, R. (2016). The politics of design: A (not so) global design manual for visual communication. ■ Pater, R. (2021). CAPS LOCK ■ Loukissas, Y. A. (2022). All data are local