Chicas Poderosas premieres in Venezuela with programming workshop and "hackathon" of public data

International organization Chicas Podererosas (Powerful Girls) recently launched its Venezuelan chapter with a workshop on analysis and programming, as well as a “hackathon” of public data.

Venezuelan journalists Yelitza Linares, Carmen Riera and Nathalie Alvaray of the consulting firm Sinergia, Design and Innovation (SDI for its acronym in Spanish) are the representatives, or "ambassadors", of Chicas Poderosas in Venezuela.

They organized this workshop (Nov. 25 and 26) and the "hackathon" (Nov. 28 and 29) as the first Chicas Poderosas data journalism event in their country. The Press and Society Institute (IPYS) of Venezuela also collaborated.

The Chicas Poderosas movement began in 2013 as a project aimed at women in digital media in Latin America. It is now a global network with a presence in 11 countries in the region, and has plans to expand farther.

The goal of its founder, interactive designer and graphic animator Mariana Santos of Portugal, is to empower professional women in communication, promoting their digital education.

Riera told the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas that for the workshop prior to the hackathon, 25 women journalists who work in media outlets in the capital and the interior of the country were selected from the IPYS Venezuela database. These women had some experience or training in data journalism.

"With IPYS Venezuela, we proposed that (the hackathon) would produce stories, that's why we had a workshop in addition to the hackathon,” Riera added.

The workshop was led by Brazilian journalist Natalia Mazotte, coordinator of the Escuela de Datos of Brazil and director of data journalism organization Género y Número, which focuses on issues of gender.

One of the great obstacles with data journalism in Venezuela that Mazotte noticed during the workshop was the lack of access to information and outdated public information in that country.

"The government does not record the (public) data, so, it neither organizes them or releases them for public access. For me, that’s the great challenge of data journalism in Venezuela," Mazotte told the Knight Center.

In that sense, the Brazilian journalist explained that during the workshop it was difficult to try to apply and develop in Venezuela examples of data journalism projects carried out in Brazil and in other parts of the world.

In this respect, Riera commented, "in Venezuela there is no law on access to public information (...) the databases that exist are done by journalists, and are done through reports or journalistic reporting."

The presence of Chicas Poderosas in her country, Riera reflected, will further promote training and innovation among Venezuelan journalists.

"It's a series of tools that will serve Venezuelan journalism, democracy and citizens in Venezuela. That for us is the fundamental objective of having brought Chicas Poderosas and having been able to do this event here,” she said.

The Hackathon, which unlike the data analysis workshop was open to the public (with a limit of 50 spots), aimed to train journalists in technological tools. The event was done with the goal of helping them develop applications or technological solutions that facilitate access to public data for citizens and journalists.

So, in addition to the journalists, hackers and programmers were also invited who had advising from two schools of developers and programmers, 4Geeks and Academic Hacks, during the event.

In previous years, Riera said, her consulting firm SDI held three hackathons with journalists, designers and programmers, as innovation events, in order to achieve and develop technological solutions that serve journalism and democracy in the country.

However, because of the crisis that exists in Venezuela, they failed to continue them, she explained.

Marianela Balbi, executive director of IPYS Venezuela, also told the Knight Center that, since 2014, the institution she directs has been conducting several training sessions for journalists in the country, with the same objective.

They work to "train journalists in data journalism, investigative journalism and digital narratives to bet on quality journalism and an innovative craft," she added.

In that sense, Balbi said: "We just lacked that innovative component that Mariana Santos has found, linking innovation and technological challenges with women journalists, who often have cultural barriers to approach programming and information design.”

Another of the difficulties facing data journalism in Venezuela, according to Riera, is the lack of programming professionals, who in many cases have left the country due to the crisis.

Financing is another major obstacle mentioned by Riera. It is necessary to obtain more funds so that these projects of training and technological innovation in data journalism can be developed and carried out, she said.

The ideal outcome for Riera is that all these efforts translate into "good journalistic stories, and especially into tools that endure in time.”

In an atmosphere of conflict, like that in Venezuela, Balbi reflected, "polarization is overcome with good journalism and with permanent development of data journalism, this irrefutable, accurate and revealing journalism that is based on the truths of data.”

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.