My name is Tony and I’m the General Manager at Doink, Beatfreeks’ Data Lab. This is the start of a regular blog series about what Doink is up to and thinking about – but I thought it could be useful to start at the beginning to introduce who I am and how I got here.
“What are you passionate about?” There’s very little that leaves me stumped for words, except for these type of questions.
There’s the standard stuff; food which comes with gravy, films starring Edward Norton, proper Somerset cider… but there’s something deeper set, and more urgent that gets me red-faced and pounding the table – which is difficult to put into words; the closest I can get is saying I’m passionate about making the world fairer – particularly for young people… which is vague at best.
I get frustrated by policies which make disadvantaged people more disadvantaged. I get angry about headlines which point blame filled fingers at people and communities. I am incensed by how public debate is skewed and diverted by misinformation causing many to make decisions which are not in theirs or in the best interest of them or their communities. I really believe that the key to tackling these issues lies in two things…
As citizens we need to be better informed, and better at sharing our stories.
Being better informed means being able to see a bigger picture than our own experience, and being better at sharing our stories means being able to help other people see that bigger picture too. With this in mind, my career has centered around helping people to understand things and articulate their thoughts. I’ve spent time as a teacher, a youth engagement officer and as a project manager at a social enterprise.
I joined Beatfreeks in 2016 as the Head of Programmes and Training to continue my mission to make the world fairer. I was drawn to the organisation’s ethos of empowering individuals whilst stressing the importance of society and our place within it. In March of this year, Beatfreeks became The Beatfreeks Collective and formed three companies, all using creativity for good – including our Data Lab, Doink.
Doink seeks to ‘humanize data to tell better stories and facilitate better decisions’.
There’s so much shared space between my personal beliefs and the motivation behind Doink that there’s an ongoing office joke that it’s fate that’s brought me and Doink together. As a society and as individuals we have never had so much data to contend with, but we’ve also never been so lost as to where to begin with it all – this has a massive effect on our ability to tell properly informed stories about ourselves and how we connect with the world.
Doink brings together artists, technologists and researchers to identify motifs and build installations which give people the chance to explore data stories better. Doink allows people to play with data by physically being able to interact with information. That means being able to physically pick it up, put it down, poke it, prod it, throw it, and catch it.
In creating data playspaces which are informed by artistic excellence, Doink installations provide opportunities for individuals to take ownership of the data sets being explored, allowing them to author their own journeys through that data, and develop their own set of questions or recommendations about what we do with this new knowledge. This creates emotional connections between the individual and the information being conveyed or collected – which is powerful stuff.
A brilliant example of this is a Doink project called SocieTea.
SocieTea explored demographics in the workplace; a topic that’s massively important but also involves a lot of ‘boring’ statistics, so we decided to bring these ‘boring’ stats to life using tea and biscuits. We represented social groups in various industries with stacks of biscuits, instantly bringing the data to life. It was great fun, who doesn’t love a custard cream – but crucially, it highlighted the very small number of women in senior management roles, and the lack of representation of ethnic minorities across industries. The success of SocieTea was in the fact that the installation acted as a springboard for difficult conversations made easier. Rather than this data visualisation being the end of a piece of boring research – it becomes the beginning of asking ‘why’ there were no female asian MP’s or ‘how’ we can change the face of boardrooms in the city, or ‘what’ can we each do to change this.
This is not just about replacing surveys. By helping organisations to better understand the sentiments of their audiences, we can help organisations to ensure their products, services, and strategies properly serve the people who use them. Again, it’s about getting the data we need, and then asking the right questions about that data to create positive change.
To these ends, we built our first live sculpture installation for Barbican’s Walthamstow Garden Party (WGP) to capture the thoughts and views of attendees called Mood Strings in 2016 and continued the installation this year too – the team at the festival are a brilliant example of an organisation who have taken the comments of their audiences onboard and then used that data to shape the event. This year we looked to understand a wider picture of how attendees engage with arts and culture, and importantly, what they understand those two terms to mean.
Over the coming year we’re experimenting with what implications digital technology has for our work and how we build projects around social data sets on a larger scale to get more people involved in the conversation.
It’s really exciting and means I get to spend loads more time tinkering away with bits of tech, or wiring lights, or chopping wood, or whatever curve ball Doink throws my way whilst still trying to put the world to rights. If you’d like to know more about what we’re up to and where we’re going, or if you’d like to put your skills to use in a Doink project give us shout, I’m always up for a cuppa. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org or pop in and see us, we’re based at iCentrum.
Written by Tony Bhajam
For more information about Doink.