How can I activate a local data community?

Do you want to encourage youth or a special interest group to use data to build apps, engage local government or to understand a critical issue?


It's good to think through (1) who you would like to engage as your core group of 'early adopters' or interested partners, (2) why they would want to be part of a local data community and (3) how you plan to engage them. For example, you may want to focus on students because you are on a university campus. But why would they be interested in participating in your community: to add skills to their CV? To improve people's lives? And is the best way to reach them through events or online resources - or some other way?

Local activities

There are different types of activities you may want to consider running (or joining), or some combination of these. Two or more events may even be linked together into a challenge. See these challenge examples which include multiple events: Healthy Environment, Spatial Transformation or Affordable Medicine. Or you may want to run a campaign to counter misinformation on social media.

An easy, fun way to get started is to hold a data Easter Egg Hunt. In this event, people form small teams that compete against each other to answer a set of questions by searching for relevant data.

Have a look at this one from Open Data Day 2016. It includes questions and datasets that you could use or adapt for your own community.

Finding and sharing resources

A good way to start building a local community is by sharing open data, guides or content with your network. If it is web-based you can share with your network as an early draft and update as you source new content, rather than waiting until you have a final book to share as pdf or hardcopy. Examples:

  • See the open data resources in this toolkit for spatial data, healthcare data, air quality data and a mini-guide on working with spatial data.

  • In this example from NASA they explain how to track air pollution from space using satellite images and how to compare it to data from terrestrial monitoring stations.

  • TrainUp publishes open content on scraping data and other topics. More content is being added over time. There are many other online tutorials and books on technical topics, such as this one on data visualisation.

  • Create a toolkit, wiki or guide on a specific topic, such as the Open Data Charter and this one which are built on gitbook.

  • We have been adding to a working catalogue of 300+ (mostly) public data portals and websites in South Africa that you browse and share with each other.


You will probably want to let people know that events are happening or resources are available. There are many different web-based tools for this. The real challenge is to ensure content and communication are relevant to your audience.

  • If you are looking to send a newsletter or setup a mailing list then Mailchimp is great, and free for less than 2000 subscribers. It also integrates with social media.

  • Many social media managers use scheduling engines such as Tweetdeck or Hootsuite. These help you manage multiple social media accounts and schedule posts automatically.

  • Open Data Durban regularly posts useful resources on their Twitter feed. They often repeat tweets about specific projects they are working on or local events, so people are more likely to see this info. They also find and post content from other local and international sources that is of interest to their community.

Additional material

The Code for America Brigades have published useful resources for hosting a local data community.

If you would like to dig deeper into the strategy, the Sunlight Foundation has published "A Guide to Tactical Data Engagement" (TDE). This guide aims to assist (primarily government) local data champions "Facilitate the impactful use of open data by collaborating communities".

A CMRA report identifies a number of key open data needs from a community or civil society perspective. For example, the use of data should lead to dialogue and accountability.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) recently (late 2018) published a Data Playbook to improve data literacy, through 30-60 minute conversations.

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