SEPT 19: “Data DiscoTech” event to explore the impact of open data on grassroots communities

The Detroit Digital Justice Coalition is comprised of people and organizations in Detroit who believe that communication is a fundamental human right. We have been working to secure that right for the past six years through activities that are grounded in the digital justice principles of Access, Participation, Common Ownership, and Healthy Communities.

In January 2015 the DDJC launched a “reboot” to bring more people and organizations into the urgent work for digital justice in Detroit and to foster more collaboration across existing digital justice projects.

The 14 current member organizations of the coalition span Detroit’s social justice organizing, social service, media arts, and civic technology communities. Our constituents include people on welfare, senior citizens, social justice activists, youth media makers and others.

As part of the reboot we restructured our work within four major areas: technical support for organizing, digital justice policy, discotechs, and mesh networks.

Most recently our work has centered around the “Open Data Portal” released by the City of Detroit earlier this year. The data portal, a website that offers access to data and information concerning City government operations and service delivery, is part of a larger national trend towards open governance models. Open data often allows for greater accountability and transparency within government and local decision-making. Open data, however, is also a cause for concern as it relates to the privacy rights and risks of surveillance of vulnerable low-income communities.

Data DiscoTech
A DiscoTech at the Kemeny Recreation Center in 2011. Photo by Nina Bianchi

Data DiscoTech

We hope to make the potential benefits of open data accessible and useful to grassroots organizers through our first “Data Discotech” organized in partnership with the Detroit Community Technology Project and Detroit People’s Platform, a network of Detroit social justice activists. The event is open to the public and will take place on September 19th, 11:00 am - 3:00 pm at the Samaritan Behavioral Center (5555 Conner St.).

A “DiscoTech” is a term coined by the Detroit Digital Justice Coalition and is short for "Discovering Technology." These public technology fairs offer interactive, multimedia workshops to demystify technology concepts. We’ve watched this model grow and spread all over the world and it remains one of our most powerful tools in building a digital justice movement.

Too often, open data is used by technologists, journalists or city planners, but it has not yet fulfilled its potential as a people’s tool. To empower individuals in using the Open Data Portal, the DDJC hopes to provide context and hands-on training in utilizing open data.

Our major goals in organizing the Data DiscoTech are:

  1. Demystify data. What is it? What does it look like and how do we read it? What is my online identity?
  2. Understand the risks of open data. What personal data is made public through open data and does it compromise individual’s privacy and security? What are the risks of open data for marginalized communities? Does open data create risks of criminalization?
  3. Understand how to use data in community organizing efforts. How can we use open data to solve problems in the community, make a case for community owned land trusts, develop community wi-fi networks? Can we use open data to support the campaign to stop water shutoffs? What information on blight is available and how can communities use it to reclaim abandoned structures and land?
  4. Use data in creative ways. What are unique ways we can tell compelling stories with data from our communities?

Workshops at the Data DiscoTech will include “How to FOIA,” “Mapping with Data,” and “Policy for Data Justice Provisions.” Other workshops will be presented in partnership with grassroots organizers working around issues of housing, food, land, education, and community benefits ordinances.

Download the DiscoTech flyer!

The “Opening Data” Zine

In conjunction with the Data Discotech we are excited to release the “Opening Data” zine, which offers a primer on open data, real-world examples of data discrimination, use cases of data in organizing, creative data storytelling, and more. The zine will be available to attendees of the Data Discotech and for download or sale online. Check out previous DDJC zines here.

Read the Zine

Digital Justice Provisions for Open Data

We know that educating communities around data is just the beginning. Ultimately, our goal is to build a comprehensive set of digital justice provisions for open data, to be adopted by the government of the City of Detroit.

Through the Data Discotech we hope to create a participatory model of technology education that can help other communities develop their own digital justice provisions to be incorporated into open data policies and practices.

As open data becomes more and more prevalent in our society, it is important that we understand its potential as well as its drawbacks so that we can develop our own recommendations for its use. Join us at the Data Discotech on September 19th as we explore these questions together!