I spent a couple of days at the end of January back on campus at my alma mater, for the Activism by the Numbers retreat.
It was two days of exploring the overlap between data, storytelling and activism; with a great mix of activists, geeks, artists, storytellers, social scientists and data scientists.
I gave a talk at the start to bring the data and tech side down from its pedestal a bit (my slides are here) and the remainder of the two days were a mixture of panels-followed-by-discussion, group workshops, and gathering over food.
The organisers did an excellent job of setting the tone and providing just enough structure to keep things moving and getting us talking to each other, without it veering into the forced-and-worthy group problem-solving that’s so common in these situations. (It felt at times that some of the organisers were a little out of their comfort zone allowing things to be as loose as they were, but they held their nerve and were suitably rewarded).
I met some amazing people (such as the woman heavily involved in organising CND in the 80s, all from out in the North Pennines—and who was still enthusiastically encouraging others to organise). I heard some wonderful, moving, stories (the touching tale of the protesting Durham teaching assistants being invited into the traditional, masculine Durham miners’ march in solidarity for their cause; the Blackpool “nannas with banners” fighting against fracking, and taking their story to the people with a theatre production…).
The retreat was great, and reinforced my view that we need to find more ways to get the geeks, storytellers and activists in the same room more often: so the geeks can build better tools for organising; the activists can teach and encourage more organising for change; and the storytellers can help spread the message better and further.
While I was preparing the talk, I asked people for examples of activist data projects or people working in that arena. I thought it would be good to share them here too:
- Forensic Architecture
- Heath Bunting’s projects
- Manu Luksch
- The Human Sensor
- London Cycling Campaign - Healthy Boroughs
- Dr. Julie Freeman
- A Dutch programme to gather data for cycling improvements
- Another Dutch group gathering noise data around the airport
Finally, in the time between the event and finishing this write-up, I watched this talk from the recent Chaos Computer Congress, and it seemed worth including too: What the World can learn from Hong Kong