Posted 26 January, 2016 by Zara Rahman

Getting meta on RDFviz planning

Last week, together with our event partners Data & Society, Thoughtworks and Tableau, we held our first Responsible Data Visualisation event, in New York. 35 people with varying perspectives on data visualisation joined us for the day; journalists, activists, artists, researchers and academics, to name just a few, bringing a wide range of experience to the room.

As with many of the Responsible Data events, it was structured in a participatory fashion, and facilitated and wrangled by our long-time friend and ally, Mushon Zer-Aviv. The content of the event itself can be seen on the wiki and in a variety of write ups that participants have already done – and, in a series of video conversations between participants that will soon be published.

So, rather than talk about the event content itself, we wanted to look at what elements went into the event itself. Based on feedback from participants, and our experience running and contributing other Responsible Data events, here are a selection of considerations we made when planning and implementing the event.


This was the first event on Responsible Data Visualisation. This meant that there were a range of understandings of what ‘responsible data visualisation’ actually was, and how it could be defined. Not having a set definition meant that we couldn’t have a pre-defined series of outputs – so the aim of the event was to gather the community to collectively discuss and come up with some kind of shared understanding of what it was, and how to move forward in the discussion.

some of our considerations

Gathering diverse perspectives: one of the strengths of RDF events is that they often provide an opportunity for people who wouldn’t otherwise cross paths to meet and collaborate. Though it can sometimes be challenging to reconcile drastically different opinions, we believe that some of the most interesting outputs and conversations happen through these kinds of collaborations.

In our morning go-around outlining what we all wanted to get from the day, it was refreshing to see that many of our participants shared this opinion, and wanted to have their beliefs challenged and – potentially – change their mind about certain issues. Providing space for that, and an environment in which people felt comfortable both in challenging and being challenged, was important.

Recognising who was not in the room: Despite the above point, constraints on the number of people we could have in the room, as well as limits on our financial support capabilities, meant that there were lots of people who couldn’t attend. As it was the first time people were gathering to talk about this topic, we prioritised people who had already done some thinking or work on the topic previously; this was essential to ensuring that that we could walk away from the event with some really practical and useful resources. And while we recognised that this meant that a number of people were not able to attend who wanted to, we are committed to making sure that we continue the conversation with a broader audience.

Getting people thinking. Mushon, our star wrangler and facilitator, took the step of writing a few thought-provoking posts in a variety of fora about responsible data visualisation issues, such as this one on empathy and visualisation. He also encouraged participants to do the same, which resulted in a number of fantastic posts, like Catherine D’Ignazio’s timely exploration of what feminist data visualisation would look like.

In addition to getting contributors to examine their ideas in advance of the event itself, it also paved the way for other participants to get an understanding of who would be there and their ideas, as well as raising awareness of the event for those who may also have been thinking about similar issues in their work. Using #RDFviz, a number of these posts and thoughts were shared on Twitter, too.

Creating space for actual work: This wasn’t a space solely for discussion. We were looking to participants to settle in and actually get some work done, and have concrete outputs to share by the end of the day. Admittedly, having just a couple of hours in the afternoon isn’t a huge amount of time – but working in groups, that’s actually a reasonable number of people-hours to dedicate to creating a useful resource. It also acted as a good way of maintaining participants’ attention and engagement throughout, as the day was split up into chunks that required different modes of active participation throughout.

Creating social space as well as work space: …in addition to the ‘doing’ aspect of the event, there were also two social events that we invited participants to, so that they would get to know each other in advance of, and directly after, the event. The drinks event at Data & Society the evening before allowed people to meet and chat in a more informal setting first, and had the added benefit of providing a welcoming space for ‘newcomers’ to the community. Similarly, we invited participants and others interested in the topic to join us for drinks the evening of the event, in order to widen out the group of people who could benefit from the discussions we had.

..but there’s more!

Listed above are just a few considerations that we kept in mind throughout the planning and implementing of the above, and in retrospect, it’s interesting to think through just how many others there were! We’ll be reporting back on the content of the event itself in the not-so-distant future, so keep an eye on the responsible data blog for those updates. We’re incredibly grateful to have worked with such supportive and smart participants, partners, and of course, our facilitator Mushon.

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[…] Explore key intersections where opportunity and responsible data challenges collide (you can find a round-up of our most recent RDF on Data Visualization here) […]

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