Bolivia 2.0? The role of data, technology and information in Bolivia in 2012

It is by now a cliché to to point out how developing countries most in need of what data journalism provides–a credible, fact-based approach that cuts through the noise of bias to help average citizens become informed participants in the problem-solving processes of improving social-political challenges–is not (quite) manifesting itself where it is most needed. Yeah, that’s a long sentence. But Bolivia is a case in point.

A search for data visualization in Bolivia yields mostly European NGOs posting myriad Tableau and GoogleMap visualizations about the usual statistics on health and economy–laudable efforts in their own right, but not a good representation of the state of information and data visualization in Bolivia proper.

To find what Bolivians are doing, you need lots of time and a high level of tolerance for dead links. But it’s out there. As a recent example, Bolivian@s Globales produced a modern, candid video on the state of Bolivia. It’s a solid blend of information and optimism, and shows us what today’s Bolivians are capable of producing in the digital space.

And–in a country where where the government can be reliably counted upon to discourage openness and transparency–multimedia, even the simple use of video, is critical. Fortunately, there is evidence that digital journalism is growing. The major papers went online years ago, but more importantly, there are now digital journalism sites and signs that Bolivian bloggers are growing, both in quality and in numbers.

Crowdsourcing, mapping and social media in Bolivian elections

Sadly, one of the most encouraging examples of data visualization and social media in Bolivia went dark, but the screenshots and documentation that remain are encouraging. In 2009, Voces Bolivianas and other Bolivians began using data visualization to monitor Bolivian elections (Elecciones 2.0 Bolivia). See how monitoring was crowdsourced through GoogleMaps:

Elecciones 2-0 Bolivia

Coupled with Twitter, a Facebook page and other social media, Elecciones 2.0 Bolivia was groundbreaking for Bolivians. Re-visto, an online investigative journalism site run by Deutche Welle, interviewed Mario Duran (a noted Bolivian blogger) on the groundswell of acceptance and use of social media and digital journalism in the 2009 elections (English translation here). And there was a New York Times write-up of how Bolivians were covering the elections referendum on Twitter.

Other Bolivian data visualization projects of note:

Bolivians’ access to reliable Internet:

Bolivia (as well as other developing nations and rural communities in the U.S.) faces another challenge–reliable internet speeds. A recent Bolivian infographic (in Spanish) describes the problem and the social media citizen lobbying effort (Mas y major internet en Bolivia–Better and more Internet in Bolivia) to address it.

I’ll be honest. As I was researching information for this post, I found myself frustrated with the fact that, after days of searching, I couldn’t easily point to a few examples of cutting edge data visualization pieces. There was a part of me that wanted to say to the world, “see, we’re doing it too, you just haven’t found us.” But I’m walking away from this experience with a much more sober understanding of the challenges that Bolivians face. I’m not a journalist. I no longer live in Bolivia. I don’t have to deal with civil unrest, strikes, sketchy Internet access and the uneasy history that Bolivian governments have bequeathed to journalists and citizens concerned with civil liberties and human rights.

The willingness of Bolivians to put in the sweat equity to learn, exploit and disseminate these technologies is self-evident and encouraging.

The next steps, as I see them? Helping Bolivian journalists continue to embrace data journalism, raising awareness of open source data platforms such as Tableau and Ushahidi, and empowering today’s technology-minded Bolivians to learn how to turn information into power through openness and transparency. I’d be most interested in hearing from you on how this is happening and look forward to writing more about it.

Data visualization as multi-media narrative

I’ve been on a multimedia kick lately, digging for interesting examples of how journalists are telling their stories via this interesting catch-all for pictures, animations and all things that move with words. A multimedia interactive timeline produced back in September, 2010 persists, in my view, as a stellar example. Yes, that was over a year-and-a-half ago, but I challenge you to find anything this good that has come out since.

El Mundo, a Spanish newspaper with a very good data visualization design team, created an interactive data visualization/multi-media narrative recreating the attempts to rescue Chilean miners trapped in the copper-gold mine near Copiapó in August 5, 2010 “Rescate de los mineros chilenos atrapados bajo tierra” (“Rescue of Chilean Miners Trapped Underground”).

Created a month after the successful rescue this piece by David Almeda successfully deconstructs the messy reality of three rescue plans, changing information on the ground, technical obstacles and engineering solutions, as well as the human faces behind the crisis. If I counted correctly, there are about 30 animated frames in this, several of which contain infographics polished enough to be published in their own right. The only thing I’d add to this would be a scrubber with a timeline to allow users to move through this at their own pace and to get a sense of the timing.

This is a solid interactive and a beautifully understated display of process, timelines and information. In our ongoing fascination with data visualization, this reminds me of why I started this blog.

ElMundo_Chilean mining interactive

 

Good old fashioned shoe-leather multimedia journalism

There’s so much about multimedia that washes over me, almost on a daily basis. I tend to tune out fancier versions of video/audio/slideshow shenanigans for the most part, unless they are as they should be: a dialed down, behind the scenes approach that seamlessly and quietly facilitates the engagement of the user and the experience. And, just my luck, I stumble across a very good example of this, after the project has gone dark (January 2012). But not completely.

Founded in part by Alex Wood, an up-and-coming digital journalist, Not on the Wires remains a solid showcase of shoe-leather journalism augmented by technology. There’s nothing fancy about the approach, and that’s why it works.

It’s polished, but the technology doesn’t get in the way of the storytelling–related stories, videos and audio appear where they’re needed and allow the journalists quietly and powerfully proceed on his and her way. You could spend a few hours on this site. I hope you do.

Not on the Wires