Sowing the Seed
At Ixio Analytics, we believe that it is only by sharing knowledge that we expand the boundaries of our craft and demonstrate the art of the possible.
It is easy to think that with the spread of free open source software like R and Python, and the availability on free online tutorials that teach you almost any method and its application, that data has been democratized and the skills to interrogate data are accessible to almost everyone.
While much progress has been made in the last decade towards achieving this, there remain large barriers to entry into the world of data. The lack of data literacy in many scientific and corporate communities, and the shortage of trained data scientists worldwide, are signs that much work is still needed. This is particularly true in Africa, where the need for data driven scientific research and data-driven decision making in business and governance is acute.
The Great Leap Forward
Those who are yet to incorporate rigorous, repeatable data analytics into their workflows are often put off making the great leap forward because they are intimidated by the coding skills required and lack a community of users who can support them on their learning journey. If only they could be shown that anyone can learn the basics of coding quickly and easily, and that it is easy to form user groups that provide support to members, many more would take the plunge. The data science skills base would broaden and expand rapidly.
Enter Data Carpentry (and its sister organization, Software Carpentry). Data Carpentry is a foundation dedicated to developing and teaching workshops on fundamental data skills to learners who have little to no prior computational experience. Through running workshops and training instructors, the Carpentries (as they are collectively known) demystify data and software and build communities that provide support to members on their learning journey.
Building Communities of Practice
I was inspired by this model and instructed my first Data Carpentry workshop last month in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, with Anelda van der Walt and Lactatia Motsuku. The group of learners from the Ethiopian Research and Education Network were all women and were hungry to lift the veil that sometimes obscures data and statistics based coding.
Under the Data and Software Carpentry model, promising workshop participants can be trained as instructors and promote the growth of user communities in their region by hosting their own workshops. This further increases the number of instructors and workshop participants. After attending a workshop, learners will have acquired some basic skills in software design or data analysis, but still have a long learning journey ahead of them. However, they will have already crossed the crucial barrier that prevents many from even beginning the journey.
I found my experience in Addis to be hugely rewarding and I look forward to instructing many more Data Carpentry workshops around Africa.