Monday, January 13, 2020

Coming Soon: The Data Lab

I know it's been quiet here...but I'm still around, thinking and working on various things. My latest data story will be complete this week. It's taken a few months to represent nearly 10,000 data points, but it is looking good. More on that soon.

But today, I want to commit publicly to what's next.

It's been a challenging year at work. I still enjoy my job a lot, but not necessarily the conditions I have to currently work under. Enough said. So, as I've been talking with others about this and pondering what I want to do, I have found myself thinking about what I want. What would my job look like? And in the midst of all that, I developed what I started calling "Crazy Idea #1" and "Crazy Idea #2."

Crazy Idea #1: Community-based Data Story
I've pushed out our district data stories into the community for the last couple of years, but what if I helped the community push out one of its own? What if I worked with an organization that needed community input on their strategic plan or other goals? What if we linked with other districts to leverage our data and resources?

And, crazy or not, this idea is in motion. I've identified an organization that is working to help students in our area build their capacity to connect with their neighbourhoods and community. I've talked with my counterparts in other districts about some data that we have in common to share. And soon, I'll be working with a few thousand students to create a data story that we will share at our city's spring arts walk. It's terrifying and inspiring...the perfect intersection of emotions to get me excited about going to work (regardless of whoever and whatever else is there).

But most importantly, I plan to use Crazy Idea #1 to launch something even crazier.

Crazy Idea #2: The Data Lab
You see, what I really want to do is support people in using data to answer their own questions and tell their own stories. And while not all of those stories need to take a physical shape, I can honestly say that getting your hands involved builds understanding. So, to that end, I want to develop a physical space for people to come and work with data.

I see this as a storefront in our downtown area. The front would have some retail options—journals, art supplies, all manner of sticky notes, and anything else you might need for capturing and representing ideas with data. But the biggest part of the store would be a conference space...something with flexible furniture, idea paint on the walls, carts with materials, a large screen, and anything else needed for learning. I see this as a place to host workshops on all sorts of topics, data walks, group work/planning, and more. It will be a lab for building stories. I want it to have a 3D printer and laser engraver and band saw.

And my audience? Being in the state capital, there are plenty of options—from lobbyists to state agencies to schools to community-based organizations. Most importantly, I want it to be a place where all are welcome and that underrepresented groups can have their voices lifted. I want to support and grow others.

But to get there, I have to build my reputation outside of school districts and demand among other organizations. I need some time to build capital (social and monetary) through consulting so I can have enough momentum to launch the physical space. Crazy Idea #1 is going to be one of those steps.

In the meantime, I have commissioned the logo you see above. (It's not finalized yet...we're still making a few edits.) I am teaching a class on data use at a local university this spring, and that will give me an opportunity to test out some hands-on workshop ideas. I've purchased a couple of domains. And I'm off to meet with the local center for women in business to try and get smart about that side of things.

When I talk about this idea with people who know me and know my work, they all see the potential. And while I know that they're biased (as am I), I've also never been so clear on what I want in my life...not even when I picked teaching for a career. I realize that there will be lots of twists and turns on the path ahead...plenty of setbacks and disappointments...and that the final product will be different from the vision I have now. But I accept that as part of the bargain.

What do you think? Any feedback on the logo or ideas? Are there people I should talk to who do similar work? What else would you advise?

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