Team Training : Visual Storytelling
Tricia Govindasamy
May 5, 2017
Open Data Durban’s team has a weekly team training session every Friday afternoon. The purpose of team training is to develop and share the skills of the team. Some of the training in the past included setting up a website, basic data wrangling using a spreadsheet, extracting pdf table data using Tabula, mapping using Carto and basic data science skills using python.

On 7 April 2017, team training focused on visual storytelling. Russel Hlongwane facilitated this session using photography as a medium and some of its principles. Russel is an arts administrator and creative industries consultant. He is particularly interested in issues of heritage and modernism in contemporary South Africa. The session focused the theme of ‘’Framing, Representation and Presentation’’. The session started off with watch a documentary for about 20 minutes called Concerning Violence written and directed by Göran Olsson which is based on Frantz Fanon’s essay, Concerning Violence, from his 1961 book The Wretched of the Earth narrated by Lauryn Hill. The violence and the systemic disorientation of a continent are broadly covered in the film. It was then left to each of us to interpret the film to our own practice as people working in justice and civil engagement. The role of the documentary was to highlight the history from which we find the present. It was also a trigger to get us talking about our personal histories from different backgrounds whilst projecting common goals for the future.

After the documentary we took about a kilometer walk from ODD headquarters to Berea Centre to “people watch”. Basically this exercise was to observe people and identify our surroundings. The walk itself was an act to observe the details of the pavement and street against the people who negotiate them. Back at headquarters, we each jotted down points of what we had seen or experienced during the “people watch”. The idea of people watching was an exercise to listen, observe and speak less. In order to represent people ethically, there is a need to ‘’connect’’ our data driven work and the reality from which the data emerges — the walk and people watching was an attempt to make this critical connection.

We then had a discussion about the difference and implications of three key-words (borrowed from the principles of photography) which are closely linked to our work;

  • Framing: in photography and composition, the idea of framing is the creation of a image. The question here was, how can we better frame data upon computing it?
  • Representation: the idea of art as a presentation or representation of reality. ODD works with data which is supposed to represent a solution or problem, it is important to understand that the act of framing is a delicate one, is the data still representing the reality once it has gone through spreadsheets, computation and preparation?
  • Presentation: can one unadulteratedly present reality through DATA? And since this is our work, we ought to constantly ask ourselves, how can we get better at this?

Open Data Durban is not an organisation that just builds cool websites or applications. Open Data Durban is an organisation that is trying to facilitate social change. During this session, we were able to identify the importance of user centric design meaning that our work is based on solving problems for the community. We realised that we need to empathise and try to understand the problems of the people and therefore can we only fully drive social change and make a difference in the community.

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