An Exclusive Interview with Dataphyte Founder, Joshua Olufemi

At Jarvis Magazine, data science and all technologies related to it excites us. We are focused on giving visibility to organizations and companies who use data and data tools in one way or another. We want to tell data stories, that is why we have brought you this exclusive interview from the founder of Dataphyte. 

Dataphyte Nigeria Limited, publisher of Dataphyte is a media research and data analytics organisation with the mission to deploy data tools and technology for Nigeria’s socio-economic development. Dataphyte is the for-profit, research, and development program of The Interactive Initiative for Social Impact (The Interactive).

Dataphyte was born out of a need to fill the lacuna in data accessibility, especially in formats that support governance, policy analysis, and accountability work in Nigeria. Without doubt, policy and development planning is currently based on outdated datasets and often extrapolated estimates. As an intervention, Dataphyte was launched to provide the accountability and policy sectors with cleaner, analysed, easily-accessible and useable data to drive democracy and development in Nigeria.

The founder, Mr. Joshua Olufemi is a media development practitioner, entrepreneur. Prior to the launch of Dataphyte, Joshua was the Program Director at the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ). He has done great data-driven investigations and reporting of corruption, failure of regulatory agencies, and human rights abuses and is dedicated to achieving a better society where justice and fairness prevail. 

In this interview, Mr. Joshua talked about the challenges, motivation, and tools used in running Dataphyte.

Question: Kindly Give Us A Brief Introduction to Dataphyte

Dataphyte is a program of the Interactive initiative for Social Impact, aimed at supporting civil society and the public sector to use open data for advocacy, accountability, and good governance in Nigeria.

Essentially, Dataphyte combines technology with other data mining, analysis, and visualization resources to increase access to large unliberated data in the public space as well as hidden data within government agencies. 

The platform is a response to challenges of access to information confronting the demand side of accountability. On the other hand, it is an intervention to support the supply side, government to collect, publish, and analyze information in forms that drive better decision making.

Question: What Motivated You to Start Dataphyte And What Are Some Of The Challenges You’ve Been Encountering So Far?

Essentially, I realized that, while revenue and ethics remain key challenges confronting journalism in Nigeria, data unavailability to practice evidence-based reporting continues to compound the challenges. In three to four years from 2015, I trained over 300 journalists, the basics of data journalism. But the recurring feedback after days of training remained, “where can we get the data we can use to do great stories?” This motivated me to launch Dataphyte as an intervention to provide open data to journalists who needed development and policy data to tell compelling stories or hold institutions accountable. 

Same with civil society, the sector also has the challenge of low capacity to use data for advocacy and accountability. I have observed great societal causes that lacked the lustre of data-driven advocacy. The lack of evidence-driven and well analysed messages barely create the expected responses from citizens, government, and other decision-makers.

So, for the demand side of policy and accountability, Dataphyte has a mission to provide capacity-building support to the media and civil society to access and use existing and future data for accountability and advocacy, respectively. 

Also, I realised that citizens’ expectations of the government as stewards of development data are partly unmet due to lack of technical capacity to match expectations with actions. Therefore, the organisation was established to provide technical and capacity development support required by government agencies to open up their data through digitisation and publication.

Question: What Tools/ Skills Have Been of Major Help to Your Work?

The core of the skills are primarily data mining, data analysis and visualization skills. Our tools are mainly open source. At the moment, we rely mostly on the powerful, end-to-end functionality of spreadsheets and graphics design tools for our offline tools. 

For online tools, there are myriads of tools that depend on the task at hand. They include Everviz, Flourish, Microsoft Power BI, ArcGIS, Tableau, Google Spreadsheet and Canva.

On the programming side, we have Python, R and JavaScript and of course SQL for database related stuff. 

How Does Data Analytics/ Data Science Affect Your Work?

Data Analytics and Data Science is what we do. It is the application to journalism that most know us for and why they take our work as data journalism. I can say we use data science tools and technology to achieve the end-to-end tasks or services required of us. 

Data Science helps us present our reporting in a more compelling manner and gives the readers actionable information. 

How Have You Been Able to Simplify Data Storytelling?

We strive first to ensure we break down the numbers to the simplest we can without losing the message. We also endeavor to and humanise the data where possible or make it relatable for everyday users of the information we produce. 

For the affective part of the work, we use charts, infographics and cartoons for the purpose of retention, applications, and call to action. We have been able to simplify data storytelling by the use of data visualization. Sometimes, we publish these charts and infographics to complement our textual story content. Other times we publish the charts and infographics as standalone; an example is our #chartsoftheday.  

Question: Data from Which Sector in Nigeria is Usually Difficult to Get? 

The major data available in Nigeria are those relating to budget and socio-economic indicators. Most of the important data – security, health, agriculture, extractive, price, air, water and mobility data are usually difficult to get.

Question: In one of your interviews, you mentioned that Dataphyte intends to make data available for other newsrooms. Have you been able to do that?

Yes, we have been able to do that, and we are continuously strategizing on better ways to do that. We have been able to do that by making machine-readable data available on our open data portal platform and by granting data requests to newsrooms. We also make it a point of duty to share data and sources to newsrooms at various data journalism and capacity building programs we organise or attend. 

Question: In The Future, Where Do You See Dataphyte?

I see Dataphyte leading the data analytics and data collection service space in Nigeria. Also, I see Dataphyte among the top 5 viable data-driven transparency and accountability platforms in Africa. 

For more information on Dataphyte, Visit the Official Website. You can also follow Dataphyte on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Mariam Hamzat

About Mariam Hamzat

Hamzat Mariam is a writer, editor and a campus journalist who has interest in articles and essay writings. She's an experienced SEO expert who has written for many blogs. She currently manages realmblogs.com.ng and works as an Associate Editor at SmartLeaves.

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