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Designing a workshop series to build and improve citizen data literacy

Suggesting an activity concept to supplement the current Open4Citizens project and the future aim of establishing Open Data Labs. This story is based on a semester project within Service System Design studies at Aalborg University in Copenhagen.

Through the hackathon format, the Open4Citizens project is bringing together a variety of stakeholders and citizens to collaborate and develop solutions for the future by applying accessible open data sources. However, when it comes to the question of helping citizens to become more data literate, the hackathon format on it’s own might have some short-comings. The following article presents one of the hackathon’s held within the Open4Citizens (‘Hack the Outdoors’) and suggests an additional workshop activity that can be included in the Open4Citizens project or in its’ future goal of establishing Open Data Labs in each pilot of its’ operation.

Data literacy in a knowledge society

The year is 2018, as humans we live in an informational rich era, where we have access to almost any kind of information, as long as we have a device that is capable of connecting to the World Wide Web. Information have become one of the key resources of our society. We live in an information society, where information is a central aspect of innovation, consumption, production, as well as it plays a major role in politics, economy, education and in the other important aspects of our day by day living (Wessels, Finn, Wadhwa, & Sveinsdottir, 2017).

Some authors claim, however, there is a need for a future shift from the information society into a knowledge society; where knowledge can be extracted from numerous information streams and applied in development of future sustainable and innovative solutions. The knowledge society can be characterized by its’ free access to knowledge resources, strong service sector and continuous innovation (Wessels et al., 2017).

‘…remain human and livable, knowledge societies, will have to be societies of shared knowledge’ (UNESCO, 2005)

To enable such a shift towards becoming a knowledge society, public institutions and citizens alike need to take part in the transformation and become equipped with certain skills, including becoming more data literate.

Data literacy is an ability to collect, manage and apply data in a critical manner. Data literacy can be divided into 5 steps that build on top of each other and can be depicted through the data literacy pyramid (Figure 1). (Ridsdale et al., 2016) (Prado & Marzal, 2013)

Figure 1. Data Literacy pyramid

Open4Citizens mission

“Empower citizens to make meaningful use of open data” — O4C motto

The Open4Citizens project (or simply O4C) is an EU Horizon 2020 founded project, that aims to help citizens discover open data and join the growing movement of open data. O4C brings to citizens across Europe, a chance to experience the opportunities open data might bring while developing applications and new businesses with the potential to target a broad range of problems we are facing nowadays. In the project, a European consortium spans 5 pilot locations that all experiment with an extended hackathon format, that gives attention to all 3 stages of the process: pre-hack, hackathon and post-hack.

In the pre-hack phase, the O4C team is co-defining challenges and problems to be worked intensely on during the hackathon, as well as defining the resources and bringing together the relevant actors in workshops and meetings. The hack or hackathon itself is a 2 days intensive event, where citizens and stakeholders come together to uncover and propose new ways of solving the cases. After the hackathon, the post-hack is a phase of inviting the concepts from the hack closer to actual realization between teams, case-holders and new expertise brought in to support the promising concepts developed during the hackathon.

In the hack phase, O4C invites curious citizens to discover selected cases, develop solutions and pitch their final concepts to a jury at the end of the event. Hackathons are most often hectic, time-limited and multidisciplinary ‘hack-marathons’. All along, open data features as a backbone in the process and is presented to the hackathon participants as a valuable resource.

When talking about open data, it’s important to understand that open data comes in ‘raw’ formats, compared to the information we are accessing on our day-by-day basic. Open data requires different manipulations to become readable and applicable on one or another case, in order to convert it into the source of knowledge. In other words, on the top of being information and digitally literate, we need to be data literate in order to begin to work with open data and make sense of it.
The primary Open4Citizens mission is to create awareness of open data as a valuable resource and to help citizens become more data literate.

“Hack the Outdoors” — Data-driven tourism in North Denmark

“Hack the Outdoors is one of the hackathons organized by the Danish O4C team in November 2017 in Aalborg, Denmark, where following question was raised:

How can we improve tourism sector in the region of Northern Denmark by applying data?

Under a call to “Hack the Outdoors”, the hackathon managed to invite 70 curious citizens with primary expertise within the field of tourism and many other fields of expertise. All came together to work on 6 different cases and apply their skills and knowledge in developing regionally relevant tourism solutions of the future. The cases spanned e.g. better ways to draw in ‘foodies’ to the good food of the region, how to make better use of great MTB and hiking routes, how best to connect two cities into one great destination, how to best create experiences or make fishing experiences of the Limfjord ‘smarter’.

Figure 2 (Left). Case holder presenting one of the cases. Figure 3 (Right). Hackathon participants getting to know each other.

With the aim to support participants, all teams were invited to use a set of tools developed in the O4C project. It includes open data tools, variety of learning material and open data sources, that were provided to participants as a valuable resource, with the aim to help participants in their process. Firstly, inviting them to uncover the topic of open data; since participants had a different data literacy knowledge. Second of all, to help participants in their first steps towards applying or exploring open data in the process of brainstorm, ideation and concept development.

The hackathon was a demanding and intense process for the participants, full of activities that were aimed to help participants in their hackathon journey. Beyond the paper-based tools and online data sources, several mentors were engaged in the process, challenged and supported all 11 teams along the way.

Figure 4 (Left). O4C team is preparing tools for participants. Figure 5 (Right). Hackathon participants getting energized during the last day.

By the end of the 2-day hackathon, participants had developed a broad range of interesting solutions. Starting from the digital platform called “NordicBite” for the local businesses and farmers. Following platform concept allows different local producers and food-actors to present their offerings to the tourists visiting the region, while at the same time maintaining the full ownership over the platform.

Figure 6 (Left). Mentors having a discussion with one of team. Figure 7 (Right). “NordicBite” during their final pitch

Another interesting concept presented, was the team who received the 2nd prize as they suggested the concept “Get Hooked and Go Fish” — a chatbot solution, that draw multiple data-sources in novel way aiming to attract young new angler-audiences to fish in the Limfjord in the region.

The winning concept praised by the jury, offered an interesting use of open data by proposing an augmented reality mobile application that connects two cities into one destination called “The Heritage Hunt”. The team proposed to teach history of the region through AR type of mobile game, similar to the famous “Pokémon Go” game.

Figure 8 (Left). Final pitch to the jury. Figure 9 (Right). “Get Hooked and Go Fish” with their prize

The presented cases apply open data in different ways. “NordicBite” is not using any available open data sources, rather provides a platform — a digital space for the businesses to share their offerings, hence data. However, the “NordicBite” concept is based on discoveries made through the research, including research of available open data sources, where the team understood that local businesses are missing one united platform to provide their offerings for the tourists in the region.

On the other hand, “The Heritage Hunt”, including “Get Hooked and Go Fish” concepts fully rely on available data and open data sources. In the case of “Heritage Hunt”, it uses historic archive data, as the concept is fully based upon that data. Historic data that is available as a part of open data initiative, is mostly old fashioned hence boring, however the team could see the potential in refinement and translation of this data and converted the data in engaging and entertaining way for educational purposes.

The hackathon format awakens data curiosity

“Hack the Outdoors” hackathon event was a successful event in bringing together a broad range of participants, with diverse skills and different understandings in relation to the topic of data and open data. Participants mostly used open data as a way to define opportunities and problem cases, as well as set the foundation of their main target groups for future applications and services.

Participants showed an interest in working with open data and it hopefully heighted participant’s curiosity in the topic of data and open data. Nevertheless, the format of a 2-day hackathon is not enough to actually equip citizens to become fully or at least partly data literate in order to uncover the full potential that open data brings. The hackathon works more as a visible occasion to bring awareness to the topic of open data among new audiences. It includes hackathon participants and the multiple other stakeholders involved in the process to make data available — open and define relevant ‘hackable’ problems as cases — and continually encourage the future discoveries of open data.

Incorporating a series of data literacy workshops in the Open4Citizens process

“How can we help citizens to become more data literate?”

The hackathon format creates visibility and increases awareness about open data and its’ applications in the different areas. As such it works as a way to awaken the interest of citizens within multiple fields to have a greater interest in uncovering the topic of open data. Also, it works as a moment in time for dedication in an exploratory learning process involving open data. However, a hackathon is an intensive event, where it is relatively hard for the participant to focus on learning objectives, besides hackathon relating activities, such us concept development and preparation to the final presentation. Multiple participants from “Hack the Outdoors” event also mentioned that the hackathon is the place to test already existing personal knowledge and skills, rather than an opportunity to learn new stuff.

There is a vivid need of extra set of activities in Open4Citizens project in order to help citizens to become more data literate, on the top of the hackathon. Based on research activities performed, the concept of series of data literacy workshops in the pre-hack phase was developed. This could potentially support citizens to discover open data even before the actual hackathon, which will allow first of all to help citizens acquiring basic knowledge and skills in the field of open data. This would help the participants to apply open data more fully during the hackathon; getting one step further. Second of all, after the workshop, participants will create a common understanding of open data among each other, that potentially might accelerate the hackathon process and the meaningful utilization of open data.

Figure 10. Overall participant user journey in a hackathon process with a workshop implemented in the pre-hack phase.

Such proposed series of workshops is divided into 3 different workshop sessions and build upon principles of collaboration, support and real-life dependency, as following characteristics could positively influence the process of helping citizens to become more data literate and the quality of learnings from each session (Ridsdale et al., 2016). Sessions are aimed to be open for everyone, regardless of their technical skills and already existing knowledge of open data. Workshops are targeting three initial levels of data literacy, described in data literacy pyramid (Figure 1). Learnings obtained after the series of proposed workshop will help citizens to establish certain base of knowledge that will allow them to use the full potential of open data, which can be applied during the hackathon and not only.

Overview of series of data literacy workshops

First workshop aims to help citizens obtain a common understanding of data and open data roles in modern society through the session, where (open) data concept explained by applying it on the process of storytelling. Pen and paper are prioritized over the digital devices and tools, as it eliminates the need of technical skills from the citizens to participate in the session and helps to focus on the session. Participants are encouraged to use visualizations and their creativity along the process.

Following session as well as two other sessions, start with the intro presentation to the session topic, session agenda, describing desired outcome from the session, supported with the real case examples (Figure 11). Along the process, participants are engaged into the discussion and asked to work on the group exercises.

Figure 11. Sebastian ErraZuriz — ‘American Killed’, 2009

Practical exercises in the first workshop is using printed data sets and corresponding to it maps, relevant to participants day-by-day living, where participants are asked to match all elements together and tell their own stories. Participant’s personal connection to the provided material will potentially engage participants more into the process, where they can relate session activities to their personal lives.

Taking Copenhagen as an example, data from danish national open data repository can be applied. For example, map of Copenhagen, supported with data sets relating to the city libraries and city districts (Figure 12), where participants are asked to examine all these components and tell their own stories upon.

Figure 12. Map of Copenhagen supported with dataset of neighborhoods and libraries.

Second session is aimed to show to participants open data sources, such us governmental open data repositories and present the formats in which open data can be accessed, such as CSV, JSON, XML, etc.

Through the third session citizens will learn how to process obtained data, so it become are valuable source of knowledge. Session includes teaching tools and methods to refine, clean and visualize data. It is important to show to citizens, that data visualization is the most powerful task that can be performed with data (Kirk, 2012), as it allows to compare different data sets and through the visualization process define problematic case, opportunities or just get inspiration.

What’s next?

The proposed series of data literacy workshop are still on the abstract level and will require future development and refinement. First workshop can be implemented in O4C hackathon process in pre-hack phase, where registered participants could have a chance to develop a common understanding of open data before the hackathon.

The role of O4C is important, as an initiative that strives to open the world of open data to diverse groups of citizens without particular programming and technical skills.

The suggested workshop-series would draw on various state-of-the-art materials to communicate what and how to make sense of open data.

Soon — in the summer 2018 — the O4C project will come to an end, however an aim within the O4C is to establish a network of Open Data Labs in each pilot location of the project: Copenhagen, Milan, Rotterdam, Barcelona and Karlstad — and possibly other places as well. The series of data literacy workshops proposed in the following article, would work well as a part of the offering and activities of these labs and would be open for all curious citizens, students and aimed specifically to help citizens become more data literate.

If you are interested in learning more about Open4Ctiziens, the future Open Data Labs initiative or data literacy workshops, read more and reach out:

Figure 12. Participants of “Hack the Outdoors” hackathon event.


Nikolai Baida actively joined the organization team behind ‘Hack the outdoors’, acted as an organiser, facilitator and took a part in the event evaluation process — while also making sure to photo document the hackathon process.

At the moment Nikolai is in his final semester of Service Systems Design studies at Aalborg University in Copenhagen and doing his MA thesis in the field of customer experience and sustainable fashion start-ups.


Bindé, J., & Matsuura, K. (2005). Towards Knowledge Societies. UNESCO world report (Vol. [1]). 92–3–204000-X

Kirk, A. (2012). Data Visualization : a successful design process.

Prado, J. C., & Marzal, M. Á. (2013). Incorporating data literacy into information literacy programs: Core competencies and contents. Libri, 63(2), 123–134.

Ridsdale, C., Rothwell, J., Smit, M., Ali-Hassan, H., Bliemel, M., Irvine, D., … Wuetherick, B. (2016). Strategies and Best Practices for Data Literacy Education. 10.13140/RG.2.1.1922.5044

Wessels, B., Finn, R., Wadhwa, K., & Sveinsdottir, T. (2017). Open Data and the Knowledge Society.




Featured Stories from the Open4Citizens project, supported by Horizon-2020.

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Nikolai Baida

Nikolai Baida

Service and Experience Designer for sustainable future

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