How do you build inclusive training workshops?

The online flyer used to advertise the event

Students from disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to speak up in class, workshops, and lectures. This impedes learning and negatively affects their career trajectories.

Last Thursday (May 17, 2018) afternoon Code for Africa’s Cape Town office hosted a data journalism training event. I was excited when Jackie Bischof, a South African living in New York, introduced me to Dan Kopf, her colleague from Quartz. Dan is travelling through South Africa and was keen to get involved in the local data journalism scene. We decided to host a free workshop at our office in Cape Town. I wanted to invite senior year journalism students and young journalists in the city. I wanted to show them how learning this would greatly improve their careers, how easy it was to do, how important it was, how they could go off into the world and make an impact.

I was stupidly idealistic.

Not even one journalism student from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) registered.

I have so many good things to say about the workshop, and I’m grateful to the 15 people who took the time to attend. But the people in the room were almost all from a privileged class of people who have access to information. If we only speak to the same group of people, we will always only get the same ideas.

So how can we create spaces where everyone feels worthy of being in the room?

Data journalism introduction workshop. Code for Africa, Cape Town. May 2018

What did we get wrong? The time of the workshop.

We set the workshop time to 15h00 in the afternoon. We set this time because it was convenient for us, it gave us enough time to set up and prepare. We thought it would be convenient for students and full time workers (get your work done in the morning and come to the workshop in the afternoon), but we were wrong. Students from CPUT travel long distances, some live up to 100km away from campus, so any after school activity is not feasible and not safe.

How are we fixing this?

  1. We are going to design workshops to get the right people in the room
    We are going to be cognizant of who we want at a training workshop and build everything around them.
    We can’t allow knowledge to only reach those with good internet connections, who live close to the city, and who have cars.
  2. We are going to build a space where everyone is comfortable to speak
    I’m going to hold us accountable by collecting data at every workshop we hold from now on. We will record who is in the room and how often they participated. Because getting the right people in the room is only half the battle, the second part is to actively engage everyone and create a platform where everyone feels they can speak up without judgement.

I have a few biases going in to this. I already feel strongly that most men attend workshops to show what they know and not to learn. And when they speak, it’s often to show their own knowledge or to challenge the speaker or trainer. I’ve seen this happen many times, they take up space, and they may not even be aware of it, and that space could have been inhabited by someone who could genuinely learn something new. Someone who previously did not have access to that knowledge. Let’s make a little room for new ideas, cultures and people.

We can’t move forward until we are honest about where we are, which is why I’m going to be collecting data at each workshop we have. Hopefully this will lead to having a frank discussion on how to fix this problem of inclusion. And better yet, it will force us to try harder.

Help me design this

I created this Google sheet where I will be recording data collected from workshops. Let me know if there are categories we should be adding or if you have some ideas on how to easily do this. I’m going to be sitting in workshops collecting data manually, probably using my phone to time how long people speak for, etcetera. Are there more parameters I should be setting?

Nominate someone to attend events
If you know any journalism students interested in new media, drone journalism, data journalism, let us know.

Elizabeth Aries. 2016. Experience of disadvantage: The influence of identity on engagement in working class students’ educational trajectories to an elite university.