Responsible Data Visualization
New York, January 15 2016

/ January 15, 2016


99 Madison Avenue
New York City, New York


This RDF was held in New York City on January 15th, 2016; for reading materials and resources on responsible data visualization, check out this collection of links.

In recent years data has become a key element in various struggles for social change. We use data not only as a means for research and investigation, but also as a fundamental building block for our communication and advocacy. Data is rarely communicated intuitively in spreadsheets, rather data visualization (dataviz) has become the visual currency for the data driven campaign. Yet little is known about the ethics and responsibilities of dataviz techniques, policies, and practices in analysis, advocacy, research and design.

Over the past two years the Responsible Data Forum has explored various perspectives on the use of technology and data for social change, with special emphasis on questions revolving around security, privacy, consent, funding and documentation.  We urgently need to explore responsible data issues around visualization, so the engine room, Data & Society and ThoughtWorks will gather 35 activists, researchers, designers, technologists, analysts, artists, journalists, campaigners and other dataviz-ers to challenge our practices and use of visualization and develop useful resources to address these issues.

Our focus will be on risks and mitigations in using data visualization for analysis and advocacy. We’ll be exploring questions such as: What is still hidden when we’re “seeing the big picture”?  When we’re presenting one perspective of the data story, what is being left out? What is lost on the map? When is reduction and generalization counter-productive? What makes some visualizations that claim to represent “others”  function de-facto as Techno-Cultural Imperialism? How might making data more accessible lead to harm? Are predigested and visualized images inviting enough to dig deeper into the story? Should we be co-designing these visualizations with affected communities? And if so, how? How can the public challenge or talk back to a visualization? How do we integrate cited data sources even when many don’t bother to read them? How should we account for visual biases, deception, and cultural differences? How can fundamental research in cognition and perception inform policy and practice? After the data becomes outdated, should dynamic dashboards self-destruct? How do we visualize what we do not know? Can a visualization provoke feelings of empathy? And when is it better to simply not visualize?

Whether we’re using dataviz for advocacy on human rights abuses, to influence civic leaders or donors, to follow the money through illicit financing, to analyze environmental effects or to resist data-surveillance, a lot happens from the moment data is recorded to the point when it is visualized. Let’s make sure we’re doing it responsibly, together.

This RDF will bring together a small group of experts, practitioners and policy specialists to have a frank and open discussion about challenges with responsible data in data visualization. It is not about ‘naming and shaming’ but about being open about past experiences and building from them to better support the broader community. This event will employ a participatory methodology that enables participant collaboration on the development of actual tools and resources such as guidelines, checklists, frameworks and hopefully creative tools we haven’t yet thought of!  A key outcome of this event will be the sharing of the developed tools with others outside of this event to promote and test the content, and develop further iterations.

#RDFViz will be facilitated by designer, educator and media activist Mushon Zer-Aviv.

What is an RDF event?

The Responsible Data Forum event series are small, issue-based convenings to bring together advocates, technologists, to collaboratively develop materials for addressing the unintended consequences of using data in specific sectors. Over the past four years, we have developed a participatory methodology to enable creative development of prototypes and resources at the event itself, making the most of our in-person time. After the event, we share the tools more widely and seek to continue working on them.

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