The DataMission launch event

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On the 18th of September 2014, the DataMission launch event finally happened! We were happy to welcome more than 30 data missionaries at a fantastic venue (grrr.nl) in the center of Amsterdam. The fantastic environment allowed us to share and exchange lots of creative ideas on the topic of Doing Good with data for Humanity. After the initial mingling session with pizza and beer, our chairman and host of the meetup, Renald Buter, introduced DataMission, what we stand for, and what we want to achieve!

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After the introduction, we listened to two speakers. Our first speaker was Dr Ulrich Mans from the Peace Informatics Lab (PIL), a part of the Centre for Innovation of Leiden University. Scientists and practitioners from the PIL are interested in applying Big Data analytics in the field of peace and justice. Ulrich mentioned 5 V’s of big data (somewhat inspired by, but different to the 4 V’s of IBM): volume, variety, velocity, veracity, and viability. Here, ‘viability’ is about whether it is at all possible to collect enough data that fulfil the other V’s for a particular problem. One of their goals is to use data from war affected regions for learning and understanding purposes, rather than prediction – this is because prediction is so hard in this field, its usefulness is not clear, and it can even be potentially dangerous.

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As an example of how data analysis can help reach out to both sides of the conflict in war affected regions, he showed a Twitter network analysis graph about the Israel – Palestine conflict (image taken from http://globalvoicesonline.org/2014/08/04/israel-gaza-war-data-the-art-of-personalizing-propaganda/). In this visualization one can clearly see 3 topic clouds: pro-Israëli (orange), pro-Palestinian (yellow), and pro-Muslim (pink), The most interesting however were the few nodes in the middle which were followed by both pro-Israel and pro-Palestine Twitter users. Understanding which media have a broad reach, one can then use them to reach out to both sides of the conflict.

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Researchers at the PIL are also working on a data gateway which will channel privately held, anonymised data such as credit card details and cell phone records, into a trusted, standardized platform which is open to those working on peace and justice. At the end of his talk, Ulrich invited anybody with an interesting dataset, initiative, or an idea that could be beneficial to the Peace Informatics Lab, to get in touch with them. Our second speaker was Prof Mirko Schäfer, Director of the Utrecht Data School, a part of Utrecht University. He shared experiences from the Utrecht Data School, and reflected on the impact of data analysis on humanities research. He argued that the research practices in humanity subjects are getting transformed due to the availability of data and open source data analysis tools. Students are able to explore these subjects in a more quantitative way, to get insights from data visualizations, and to in turn sharpen the research questions. The range of projects in their school goes from the analysis of Dutch ‘old boys networks’, i.e. who sits with whom on the boards of large Dutch companies; to network analysis of Guantanamo inmates from Wikileaks files, network analysis of Twitter users from Utrecht, analysis of Unicef Twitter followers, and the list goes on. This certainly seems like a great place for conducting a BSc, Master or PhD project!

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At the end of the evening data missionaries split into several brainstorm groups, to exchange ideas on how we should organize interaction between mission driven organizations (MDOs) and data scientists, on how to organize DataMission, and on some concrete project ideas for helping solve particular MDOs problems. These will be discussed in a future post. We very much thank our food & drinks sponsors, GoDataDriven and Coney, and the venue sponsor Grrr! And we also thank everyone who came to our first event. And don’t forget to join us at http://www.datamission.nl/join-us/ if interested!

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