While there is a strong focus on improving the supply of gender data, efforts are also needed to improve demand for gender data, in order to address gaps in the dissemination and uptake of existing data. While many stakeholders are making tangible progress on improving demand for gender data, there’s one key group that can take these efforts to the next level: journalists.
Journalists can help improve demand for gender data because they play a unique role as storytellers who can make sense of complex topics and engage the wider public. While journalists have the media presence, research, and writing skills to report on gender data in a smart, digestible way, they may need more advanced visualization and specialized technical skills and a community in which they can find support in these areas. To help address this problem, Equal Measures 2030 and Tableau Foundation launched the Fellowship for Data Journalists at the Reykjavik Global Forum for Women Leaders in 2020.
The fellowship provided 16 data journalists from Kenya and India with an intensive yearlong opportunity to enhance their data presentation and analysis skills by using Tableau to communicate about data and gender issues in their country. For the fellowship, Tableau Foundation provided three data analysis and visualization trainings, as well as access to experienced mentors who provided support in developing a data-driven story about a gender issue of their choosing. At the end of the training, the participants showcased their data stories and visualizations in their published digital or print media pieces, most of which focused on gender and health-related issues, while others focused on climate change, gender-based violence, women’s political representation, agriculture, and education.
The fellowship was entirely virtual because of the COVID-19 pandemic. While this did not inhibit the participants’ ability to network and build strong virtual communities with each other, it did hinder links with local women’s advocacy groups. And while Tableau Foundation provided the virtual data visualization trainings and mentors, the journalists showed interest in learning more about the substantive issues of the data they used from subject-matter experts. They also learned about data gaps as they encountered issues in finding relevant and available data for their data stories. These data gaps also impacted their research focus, forcing some to change topics or seek creative solutions by developing their own data collections.
Despite these challenges, the fellowship’s post-project survey showed positive feedback. Participants expressed that learning Tableau has increased their data analysis skills, their ability to produce more work on gender issues, and their understanding of how to make data more accessible and understandable to readers. The cultivation of a data journalist community was another successful factor of the fellowship: the cohort used this opportunity to collaborate and provide feedback to one another. Most importantly, their previous knowledge and drive to learn data analysis and visualization tools for their work was a large part of the program’s success.
This fellowship was ultimately a fantastic example of how investing in intensive training and mentoring for existing data users can lead to highly visible and impactful gender data stories. It can also lead to new and valuable connections between journalists and subject matter experts. As seen in this case, skilled data users can provide important messaging that can be used by gender advocates and can potentially share feedback to data producers on data gaps and quality issues that they face. Together, enhancing data use through visualization, building a community of users, and ensuring a feedback loop from users to producers increases the value of gender data and builds a culture of gender data use to improve the lived experiences of women and girls.
Fellowship for Data Journalists
Project example 1: In Bihar, women face floods and increasing violence
Project example 2: Data | Men dominate climate talks at COP summits
Project example 3: How Homa Bay sex workers use PrEP to cheat HIV
This commentary was drafted by Open Data Watch, Data2X, and Equal Measures 2030.