Data journalism is a tool for development

What is development data? Academics argue that the internet has given voice for many marginalized communities and has widely regarded as groundbreaking invention that have changed the way millions of people live their lives. (Leah Lievrouw and Dorothea Kleine)

Still Kleine argues that researchers and practitioners in the field of ICT and development often struggle to prove specific impacts of the technology to funders (Journal of International Development, 2010).


If the impacts of ICT to development are purely calculated through economic growth, a lot of social change and meanings created to a society are missed. A freedom of expression is a fundamental value that cannot be measured only by economic terms!

Slowly – but nonetheless – traditional media organisations are also beginning to use citizen’s contributions in their products. Data journalism offers opportunities to journalists and citizens to work together by collecting information and presenting it in a way that create change.

Data Journalism Handbook




Kleine, D. 2010: ICT4WHAT?—Using the choice framework to operationalise the capability approach to development,Journal of International Development 22:  674–692.

Lievrouw, Leah (2011) Alternative and Activist New Media Oxford: Polity Press


  1. Sure it is! Data Journalism has all the needed elements to become one of the tools development actors should count on! It is definitely a tool to be widely used by the non-professionals and anyone interested in sharing information with others. It is particularly attractive during the social revolution contexts presented through the TED talks.
    C.W. Anderson (2012) states that Indymedia movements have supported the emergence of what he calls “Agonistic Democracy”, a type of pluralist democracy that needs to be reached through (social) confrontation. The Arab-Spring and other movements of resistance have widely rely on Social Media and more specifically on this Open Journalism that has allowed the publication of risky and delicate information and images otherwise impossible to communicate.
    The Arab Spring has been widely studied and it seems to be a global consensus on the important role played by the Social Media on it. However, there are also voices that call for moderation and are skeptic with the power given to new forms of popular journalism and specially its capacity to promote real political changes. By instance, Sean Aday (2010) in his article Blogs and Bullets: New Media in Contentious Politics specifically recommends “Be skeptical of sweeping claims about the democratizing power of new media”
    The controversy is ongoing and it has turn out to be a very attractive theme of study!

  2. The potential for data journalism is appealing, especially as it can change power balances in relation to the “old” media but also in relation to government. As Clay Shirky writes in the political power of social media – one must also be aware of oppresive forces in society using it for their purposes as well -and will try to find ways of controlling threats posed by such initiatives that you mention, and thus hindering possibilites for change. But also that it has to be accompanied by strengthening the civil society overall. I believe this is a development that goes hand in hand.

    • This is true of course what you say about the changing power relations between citizens and government, through media and data journalism. And although I’m curious of the possibilities datajournalism offer, I am also concerned with governments’ tendency to hide behind the mountains of data they collect and produce, but yet are unable or unwilling to present or communicate. This also brings in questions of transparency and responsibility. How are the all the time fewer and fewer journalists able to find and analyse the more and more data squeezed in databases, and on the other hand, do they – even modern young Western journalists – have the skills to do so…

  3. This is a very interesting post, specially because it addresses the role that civilians are more and more often playing in the production of what we call ‘news’. In many ways, journalists have come to realize that audiences themselves are the actors but also commentators of their realities. Again, a very interesting post.

  4. Thank you for a very interesting and inspiring post. It is great to see the positive spirit of Brian Conley when talking about the future of media, and how its gonna take shape. Me, working with ”traditional journalism” at a local newspaper, often get to hear these things from a newspapers perspective. For a small local newspaper, like the one I work for, as well as for many big ones, the internet has been a revolution, and at the same time a big threat. Much of traditional media have stood with their mouths open, watching internet making its entrance without really understanding it. Once they realized what was going on, it seems like it was too late: subscribers were leaving because they can get news for free online, advertisers have found more lucrative sites to advertise online, and people don’t have to wait for a paper print to release a ready product when it is just one click away. The role of the journalist and the big news agencies has changed drastically.

    I believe in citizens journalism as I think it is a more democratic and direct way to spread news, information and for everyone to engage and discuss. But I am also skeptical to the discussion that one many times hear, that it is either ”traditional media” or ”new media”. I would say they both complement each other in a good way.

    Traditional medias strengths are many, as well as their weaknesses. But to point to a few strengths I would say that the fact that they have a clear mission of not taking sides, that there is always a responsible person behind the product, the journalist ethics concerning sources and the weight it has against governmental institutions is invaluable.

    The value of citizens journalism and new media is also huge in its own ways. Anyone can now engage, and tell stories. One gets information directly where it happens, as it happens, often without no middle hand. Instead of sorting out the important (a highly subjective process) as the traditional media does, the new media has no limits for words, or length of a video. But in the millions of posts, tweets etc that are posted everyday it can be hard to find the relevant ones, and the relevant ones might have a hard time finding their public. One also has to remember that to be able to consume all kinds of media, one needs to have access to the necessary resources. The same goes for making sense out of available data. One must first have access to it, and then be able to make sense of it.

    Also, the interest of the person publishing is hard to know. Brian Conley takes up the example of the use of twitter in the Egyptian revolution as a good source of the events taking place. Twitter is, and has been, a great source in overwhelming situations, but one must also keep in mind the risks. In Blogs and Bullets (2010)some examples from the Green Revolution in Iran are shown: how the online data later can be used as evidence against people critical to the regime as well as the data can be manipulated for various interests. As always, a space where different voices meet is also a space for power struggles.

    As you say the power relationship between traditional media and citizens is staring to change, and I believe we have a very interesting future ahead of us. More people will be able to share, and talk about, their realities. And as Brian Conley says, I too believe that local media should be local and participative, but most important of all, media must be there for a transparent and more democratic society.


    • Thank you, Lotta! I have nothing more to add. Only thing I’m still worried about is the lack of knowledge and time for even professional journalists to do this as the media institutions are so concerned of their owners’ profits. Also the relationship between journalists and government officials can sometimes be rather twisted as Archetti (2012) and other scholars have shown.

  5. This is an interesting post which points towards the true potential of integrating more perspectives into the writing of our common reality. What is interesting to reflect upon in relation to this is the way in which consumption of media is changing, as is written in the post, “traditional media organisations are also beginning to use citizen’s contributions in their products”, to what extent are traditional media keeping its influence in the writing of reality and formulation of problems. As Archetti (2012) writes the development of new means of communication has affected the way in which politics and international relations has developed. And this is something that has always been limited in the number of users and contributors. What we see now is however an increasing number of contributors, all the while their location and the realities they share are relatively limited. As is concluded in the post journalists and citizens are now in to a larger extent working together to crate content and “it reminds us that the world not only is, but is made” (Gitlin, 2003:5). What I want to highlight through this comment is the need to keep in mind that the way in which we who are connected and has the power to share our thoughts and ideas – the power to be contributors – also has the power to write reality. To include OR exclude that which does not fall within our field of interest or simply our knowledge span. It is easy to get your perception blocked by the walls of power and privilege.