Interview with Donata Columbro, data humanizer – Visualeyed
D-Stories | Culture

Interview with Donata Columbro, data humanizer

Donata Columbro, director at Dataninja School, data divulger on social media and social networks, explained to us her point of view about open data issues.

Donata Columbro, director at Dataninja School, data divulger on social media and social networks, explained to us her point of view about open data issues.

Due to your job and your personal interest, you deal with open data almost everyday. Can you briefly explain to us the term open data?

Open data is public data created by PA, public or private services, companies or organizations available to everyone, provided that all data respect the users licenses.
Open data must be firstly indexed, so everybody can find it on the web, and it must be “machine readable” to use a specific term.
In fact, data can be available in different formats, but not all formats allow people to reuse it freely.
For example if data is in PDF format it isn’t usable, but if we find it in CSV format we can use it.

Why is it so important for data to be open?

Having open data allows people, both experts and private citizens, to use and share the content of public data.
It’s important to underline that public data is something that we have already paid for, so, it is our right to have and use them: it’s a matter of justice and transparency. 
This data, which could be about education or street lighting for example, is something that belongs to us.

What’s the current Italian situation about open data?

Over several years, mostly because of the pandemic, we saw many improvements in the open data field. For example, from March 2020 the Civil Protection changed the Covid-19 data format, turning it into open.
There are many good examples in Italy regarding the use of open data, but there are also many cities and municipalities that don’t take its relevance into account.

Why are there so many differences instead of one common strategy?

I think that the main problem is the lack of “open data culture” in many administrations. Transparency, control, monitoring and spreading of data aren’t aims in themselves: they are practices, part of a wider process, that every city and municipality has to take into account more seriously.


What are the proper instruments and methods to encourage open data in Italy?

Firstly, associations like ondata and then all the people, both journalists and private citizens, who supported the #datibenecomune campaign, commit themselves to support activism and information about open data.
Also Dataninja School, which is a company and not an association, wants to spread more information and consciousness about that issue.
I think that, generally speaking, the whole situation is getting better and better in Italy, but I always say that we mustn’t accept little achievements, we deserve bigger goals.
We don’t want dashboards, PDFs or digital platforms, we want disaggregated data as soon as possible.


What is the key element that could make the difference?

I believe that only people can make the real difference.
We need a wider data literacy culture: it’s highly important that data becomes usable by everyone, not just experts and data scientists. In my opinion, it’s essential to disrupt the distance between who creates data and who uses it.
The more people can use data, the more this world can be livable and just.

Can you explain that with a concrete example?

I remember a work by Riccardo Saporiti about measles vaccination that was published by Wired; our survey carried out by Dataninja and Gedi Group related to Italian slot machines and video lottery was also significant.
These are some examples that show the importance of telling data because they make citizens more conscious.
If we know what happens around our lives and into the reality in which we live, it’s possible to take specific political, economical and social decisions to improve our lives.
Another example is the data about the violence against women during the Covid-19 lockdown: thanks to this data it’s possible to take significant decisions in order to reduce the suffering of women and of their families.
Knowing data allows people to take measures in order to contrast and solve social problems.

You’ve mentioned data literacy before, could you describe this concept?

Data literacy is, briefly, the data culture and the capacity to understand data. I believe that we need a wider data education because we can’t take for granted that everyone understands graphics, data, numbers, percentages etc.
For that reason, it’s better to mention numeracy and graphicacy too.
For example, if I say “a million of people”, I don’t know how many people understand that specific quantity. Data communication is highly important because it shapes data meanings and today this is essential in all kinds of fields.

So, data journalism is very important to create a correct and powerful data communication, in order to deeply understand the reality in which we live. Do you think that italian journalists and data journalists are doing a good job?

Usually, it’s more difficult to communicate data and technical reports rather than study and analyze them. A specialized team of experts, data scientists, journalists, communication experts, designers, graphic designers would be ideal.
For example, I’ve just discovered that there exists a copywriter who is specialized into creating copy for data visualizations.
I think that Italian data journalists, who are increasing a lot over these years, are doing a good job. Certainly, we could learn a lot from other international newsrooms, not only English or American, but also from editorial staff closer to us like El País.

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