Access to the College Green area of campus will be restricted until further notice. PennCard holders and some Penn affiliates may enter and exit Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center through the Rosengarten Undergraduate Study Center on the ground floor, and may enter and exit the Fisher Fine Arts Library through the 34th Street entrance to Meyerson Hall. See our Service Alerts for details.

RDDS: Explore Our Work

DIY Data: Building a Dataset from the Ground Up

For our beginner-friendly “data gathering” session, we had over 30 attendants come together in a hands-on workshop to reflect on how we might gather and curate datasets from our own lives.

Image of Cassandra's hands sifting through a box of zines in the Barnard Zine Library. The zines have catalog cards peeking out of them.

For our beginner-friendly “data gathering” session, we had over 30 attendants come together in a hands-on workshop to reflect on how we might gather and curate datasets from our own lives. We worked through practical, hands-on approaches to conceptualizing and building a dataset, starting with “small data.” To my delight, this workshop attracted a mix of folks who are new to working with data and those who were interested in thinking about data from a affective/analog critical perspective.

In discussing the nature of data as something small and affective, rather than big and distant, we drew on the thinking of designers, visualizationists, and scholars including Giorgia Lupi, Kate McLean, Catherine D’Ignazio + Lauren Klein, and others. We discussed the scholarship and data-driven projects of these thinkers in order to reflect on what data is and how datasets and visualizations can reflect our relationship to it.

Finally, we worked through a step-by-step exercise that I designed to help us turn events in our everyday lives into a small structured dataset. We began by choosing a category (media consumption, daily movement, or communication) and making a simple list of data points from our lives in the past week. Then, we annotated each datapoint with descriptions to get a sense of what meaningful fields or headers about our data we might include. 

Each participant left the workshop with a simple table of 5-10 data points and 2-5 fields describing each data point. The process of building these tiny datasets through a process of analog curation gave us all a new perspective on what it means for something to “count” as data!

You can view the full recording of the workshop here.