Credit: Dr Irving Huerta
Credit: Dr Irving Huerta

Thinking of applying for the Social Data School 2022? Irving Huerta, Data School Convenor, explains what is different about the Social Data School in 2022.

This year, we have a usual set of modules on visualisation, data management, that will appeal to a broad public interested in data inquiry. But this year we have decided to focus on images, hence the title “Visualising Data/Investigating Images”.

For this purpose we are featuring Nicholas Masterton, from Forensic Architecture, showing some of the methods and tools he uses in his own investigations, in a module that he has called “Data Spatialisation using Python and Blender”.

We also have two public events this year, instead of one.

The first one is a very exciting showcase of projects where given assumptions on data collection and wrangling are challenged by grassroots organisations, which we have called “Grassroots Data Wranglers”.

The second one is a public session called “Spotlight on Geolocation”, and an extraordinary opportunity to have “a taste” of the course “Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) for Academics”, which is run by our colleagues from Cambridge’s Digital Verification Corps, in partnership with Cambridge’s Centre of Governance and Human Rights, Social Sciences Research Methods Programme and Cambridge Digital Humanities, as well as with the Citizen Evidence Lab at Amnesty International.

What else can we expect from other modules?

In the same line, Anne Alexander and Leo Impett will deliver a module on “Computer vision, automated image generation and deepfakes”, exploring the intricacies of computer vision and AI-generated images.

Our very own Meng Liu and Tobias Lunde, our Methods Fellows, will each teach modules that are relevant for data inquiry today in a variety of cases. “Text Recognition”, by Meng, and “What Makes for Good and Bad Visualisation”, by Tobias, will equip students both with foundational and technical knowledge to carry out research projects.

Along with this, I will give a module on Methodology for Digital Investigations, which addresses fundamental aspects of investigative practice in digital environments and dwells on the importance of using methodology(ies) in data inquiry.

Who can apply for the Social Data School 2022?

We welcome applications from all backgrounds, including journalists, NGOs, activists, trade unionists and members of civil society organisations.

We cannot stress enough how strongly we believe that anyone can embark on data inquiry projects. Nonetheless, we encourage applications from underrepresented groups in the technology sector (e.g. women, black and minority ethnic candidates, the Global South).

We want to reach people from non-academic backgrounds, but we do take applications from academics too.

In those cases, we will give priority to those who can demonstrate engagement with civil society organisations or the media, and who would find it difficult to access this kind of training through their own academic institution.

What makes for a good project or investigation idea (required in the application process)?

A good project or investigation idea would be one that starts by formulating a clear working hypothesis about an issue in the public interest and which can be addressed using digital tools.

It does not have to be a very detailed plan or a completely proven story, but it does need to show some signs that the problem at stake is real and that the digital research work is feasible to either prove or disprove the hypothesis.

For example, what was the origin of fake news in social media, or to spot the geolocation of a bombing based on imagery.

We are not looking for projects with the aim of appearing on academic papers, or pieces that try to analyse a subject as a theme. But rather, we are looking for projects that can reveal new information on wrongdoing in the public interest, and which can have an impact on the public sphere.

We will also prioritise projects which show how the methods we are teaching at the Data School can help the person reach their intended goal.

Is it going to be in person or online?

Online participation for all sessions is guaranteed, however, if there is enough interest from participants we will run the last two days as hybrid sessions, so that there is an option to attend in person. But if that happens, we will ask participants to mind the environmental repercussions of intercontinental flights — wherever this applies, we would suggest applicants to opt for online teaching.

For those who will be able to come to Cambridge, we will have the option of attending project development group workshops, mentoring sessions and the final plenary in Cambridge during the final two days (27 and 28 June 2022). This option would involve full day attendance in person on Monday 27 June, followed by a two-hour final plenary on the afternoon of Tuesday 28 June.

In other words, we would be delighted to welcome you either in person or online for SDS 2022.