What stories would you tell with data from your daily life?

In September 2014, two award-winning information designers living on different sides of Atlantic, Giorgia Lupi and Stefanie Posavec, collaborated on a year-long project to collect, visualize, and share information about their daily lives. Each week they would hand-draw representations of their activities and thoughts as part of a process to use data to become more humane and connected on a deeper level. The end result is Dear Data: an award-winning project to make data artistic, personal, and open to everyone.

(Watch starting at 6:45)

In Spring 2016, we asked online students in our Tech for Monitoring and Evaluation Online Diploma Program to try their hand at a similar month-long project and send postcards to one another. As we have 110 students in 35 countries, many of whom had only just met in the preceding weeks, this provided an excellent opportunity to recreate some of what made Giorgia and Stefanie’s project so special. And it gives me great pleasure to share some examples of their work.

For one project, two of our students (Madison and Ann, who both work with Health Policy Plus), sent one another postcards every week on the following four topics:

  1. Daily activities
  2. Social media
  3. Food
  4. Emotions

These postcards are presented without commentary below, so that you can see the postcards as they did.

When asked for their reflections as part of the exercise, both Madison and Ann claimed that the process made them mindful of issues and habits that they had previously ignored, and that they were able to discern larger patterns when looking at their week as a whole. Though neither were professional information designers, their work improved over multiple iterations, as well as became a fun, inclusive process.

“Our different styles quickly became apparent and added to the reflective learning. Apparently Madison is calm and cool, and Ann is, well, a bit excitable,” said Madison.

“The involvement of friends and family was an unplanned bonus. Visualization and art attracts attention…they got drawn in (especially Ann’s 10 year-old son Harry) and got a kick out of seeing what arrived in the mail,” said Ann.

And both agreed: “Overall it was a fun challenge—we highly recommend it. Many thanks and acknowledgement to Giorgia Lupi and Stefanie Posavec, the Dear Data creators”

If you’re interested in learning more about how you can better collect, visualize, and make decisions based on data, check out our 16-week Tech for Monitoring and Evaluation Online Diploma Program and enroll today. First course in the track starts September 12th.

Week 1: Days in My Work Week

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Week 2: Social Media

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Week 3: Food

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We are proud to announce that TechChange has joined the composting movement! Starting in August, we will be dropping off our compostable waste at DC’s Common Good City Farm each week. At Techchange, we strive to embody green habits.

Take a look at a few benefits of composting below!

  1. Composting can divert waste sent to landfills and help ameliorate climate change. Every day, the average American produces 4.4 pounds of MSW (Municipal Solid Waste), a quarter of which could be composted, according to the World Bank. Each year the US produces 133 billion pounds of food waste, much of which is produced by supermarkets throwing away food, but some of which is also due to household waste. All of this food waste releases harmful gases in landfills like methane, which contributes to climate change. Last September, the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Agriculture announced its first-ever food waste reduction goal, calling for a 50% reduction in food waste by 2030. If we are to reach that goal, everyone is going to have to get on board with composting.
  2. Composting improves local soil quality. Recapturing the nutrients from compost reduces the need for artificial fertilizers, which in turn helps fish and other water creatures. How? Artificial fertilizers used on farms and in gardens often runoff into streams and rivers when it rains, adding an excess of nitrogen (a primary component in artificial fertilizer) to the water. This is called nitrogen eutrophication. When there is an excess of nitrogen, this promotes algae growth, and too much algae can make the water too cloudy for sun to reach plants growing on the bottom of lakes and estuaries, in turn killing fish that consume those plants and so on, causing a chain reaction up the food chain.
  3. Composting saves money. Trash costs money to be taken out, so less trash means more money saved. Composting is free! It could potentially even earn money as some farmers and landscapers may be willing to buy it, given that it produces such high-quality soil structure. So not only is it good for the planet, it is good for the pocketbook.

To learn more about the benefits of composting, you can read this fact sheet put together by the US Composting Council.


I truly enjoyed the four-week TechChange course on Agriculture, Innovation and Technology thanks to Nick, wonderful guest speakers and brilliant classmates. I grasped the understanding of the current status in utilizing information and communication technologies (ICTs) for agriculture (ICT4Ag) and challenges and opportunities that lie ahead to facilitate the effectiveness of ICT4Ag. As part of my final project, I interviewed Mr. Vikas Choudhary, Senior Economist in the Global Food and Agriculture Practice (GFADR) at the World Bank.

Q: What do you consider the primary role of ICTs for agricultural processes?

ICTs play a significant role primarily in helping farmers and other stakeholders make effective decisions, and therefore are effective information delivery tools when used in agriculture. Agricultural processes are a sequence of decision making for farmers: what kind of seeds to grow, when and where to grow them, how and where to store commodity, at what price to sell, etc. These decisions have largely been based on farmers’ past experiences and their own interpretation of agricultural conditions. However, farmers increasingly face difficult decision making situations due to irregular seasonal and weather patterns caused by climate change. Therefore, through real-time data collected on various decision factors such as weather, soil quality, and crop maturity, not only can agricultural processes be more efficient, but also the farmers can make better and timely decisions in each process. ICTs also enable farmers make informed decisions in agricultural products transport and marketing by providing information on market prices and reducing transaction cost.

Q: What is the process through which this information delivered to farmers? How does it lead farmers to take right actions?

There are four steps in information delivery that we need to keep in mind for ICT4Ag: data generation, analysis, synthesis and dissemination. Each step, then, requires different considerations to take in designing ICT4Ag (summarized in Table 1). The key to successful ICT4Ag is to provide data in a consistent and integrated manner so that all aspects of information delivery are taken into account.  


Table 1. Steps to ICT-led Information Delivery in Agriculture

Steps  Considerations
Data Generation     Data should be high-quality and localized
Data Analysis    Analyze data that is necessary and relevant to farmers (implications)
Data Synthesis    Scientific data need to be communicated in a language or format that is    easily comprehensible for farmers
Data Dissemination       Data need to be coupled with recommendation of actions farmers        could take; Collaboration among stakeholders is especially important


Q: How is the private sector participating in information delivery in ICT4Ag?

While there are various types of the private sector involved in the ICT4Ag, one of them would be the companies that have been engaging in information selling, such as Reuters and Bloomberg Terminal. These companies now serve as business platforms for agricultural information delivery and are making efforts to provide much more reliable information to their client base. One example is Reuters Market Light service in India, which is a SMS subscription service to sell agricultural information for farmers. Also, there are businesses that buy commodity and seasonal forecast at higher rates. Therefore, there is a market formed among different business actors in information delivery.

In addition, there are new businesses that are trying to come up with different business models. For example, a company would generate big data from the weather infrastructure that the company has set up and makes profits by selling the information to different types of companies with different interests such as FMCG and logistics companies. There are various sectors of the economy for whom the access to reliable, relevant, topical and high quality data is key. The realm that was traditionally considered as public sector is becoming more private sector as businesses set up their own mechanisms for the on-ground weather data gathering, the utilization of satellite data or the combination of both. However, the private sector participation is still in the trial-and-error stage as business models continue to evolve.

Q: What do you consider are the greatest innovation implementation challenges?

Some of the biggest challenges are lack of hard and soft capacities, customization of data and accuracy of information. First of all, not only the current level of infrastructure, but also lack of human capability of understanding, analyzing and interpreting data is the first hurdle to fully unlock the benefits of ICT4Ag. We need to make substantial efforts to build capacity of the local implementing agencies to disseminate data necessary to farmers. Secondly, customization is critical. The provision of information needs to be tailored to specific regions. However, it is still difficult to figure out how to customize certain information to a particular target level. Next, the accuracy of information is another challenge. The predictive tools for collecting data are usually based on the predictive models, which sometimes do not work accurately. And when information is not accurate, the financial loss of farmers can be thousands of dollars. Therefore, ensuring reliability and accuracy of the prediction is very critical as it builds confidence among people. The good news is the accuracy of information is gradually improving as information is validated from more and more data sources, especially through machine learning, which helps refine the predictive models. In addition to overcoming these challenges, providing relevant, not just any, information is also important.

Many times, we are first drawn by flashy and new technologies before thinking about the essence of content. However, content is what matters after all and is key to all processes. We need to be sure about what information we are delivering, how relevant and accurate the information is, how tailored the information is and what the actual benefits that the information can bring to the farmers. Only if these criteria are met, the benefits of the information enabled by ICTs will take off.

Note: You can find Mr. Choudhary’s insights on ICT and Agricultural Market Information more at https://olc.worldbank.org/content/ict-agriculture.

About the author:


Hyea Won Lee works as an ICT Policy and Cybersecurity Researcher at the World Bank, and is a M.A. Candidate at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). She recently completed our TechChange course on Agriculture, Innovation, and Technology.