I doubt a lecture on data would push many people’s buttons, and it certainly does little for me.
“Boring, mathematical, confusing!” I thought, as I prepared myself for a very long 90 minutes.
”Groups of information that represent the qualitative and quantitative attributes of a variable or set of variables” (Wikipedia)….yawn.
“A collection of facts from which conclusions may be drawn” (Wordnetweb)….double yawn.
The definitions go on and on, and this is about as exciting as they get.
But we see data brought to life every day, without even noticing. The MPs expenses scandal, school league tables, the latest WikiLeaks crisis…. they’re all sets of data, combed through and analysed in a way us laymen can understand.
Data is really just another way of telling a story. Pictures, text and a whole range of other information can be analysed, and put into an exciting format.
The Freedom of Information Act of 2000 introduced the “right to know”, and aimed to create a culture of openess and accountability.
Since then, anyone can make a written request for information, and the public body has up to 20 working days to reply.
This data is available in a completely unprecedented way, becoming a treasure-trove of stories for any journalist.
If we understand the tools available to decipher this data, an overwhelming amount of information is at our fingertips.
Many Eyes, Swivel, Widgenie and iCharts bring data to life in a visual way.
My personal favourite is Worlde – a quick, exciting way of making swathes of information accessible.
This is a quick way of getting across the importance of recycling.
Hey presto, a weighty subject made easy!
The most important message I took from this lecture was to stop thinking of data as numbers. It is something which lives and breathes, and provides a wealth of opportunities for us journos.