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Visualizing Change

The 2011 BAVC Producers Institute is in full swing and alreaWendy Levydy testing the boundaries of how we understand technology, data and impact.

Though named the Producers Institute for New Media Technologies, the message here is not to celebrate technology itself. Instead participants are demonstrating that story-driven and human-centered technology empowers the people who use it.

Patrick Meier of Ushahidi notoriety, said in Saturday's Quickfire that technology is only ever 10% of the solution. The other 90% is core skills that change agents bring, agents who leverage technology for social action, whether its crisis mapping, environmental preservation or cross-cultural communication.

Quikfire speakers at the PI Public Day forum went through the tools and sources available with potential to create interactive experiences. The carefully curated combination of experts showed us how you don't have be at NASA or any other institution to contribute to space exploration, Facebook isn't your only social networking tool, everything in the world can be broken down into interlinked systems through game think, NFC is the new QR, and mobile phones are our new homes.

But data visualization, mapping and cataloguing stole the show. PI 2011 participants latched on to the idea that data use of any kind must have context. The audiences for PI projects need to understand where the data comes from and what it's for. As Ariel Waldman said in the Quickfire,  "making data open doesn't make it accessible."

Eric Doversberger told us how data  can be used to simplify complex systems, can be predictive, can be human and emotional. Google Fusion Tables from Labs is making it as easy as possible for anyone to enter data and create visualizations.  With just a little hacking sense, all the tools for leveraging data are being democratized.

The discussion among participants, however, has been about keeping data and visualization in perspective. Anselm Hook, augmented reality guru and PI mentor extraordinaire, brought theVisualization conversation full circle at the end of the Quickfire: good data is digestible, connected, trusted and free.

Go to Twitter and search the #pi2011 hashtag for more takeways from Saturday's public forum. 

In Sunday's debrief, Tim Trench, from Mapping Earth's Keepers, pointed out from the perspective of anthropology and sciences in general, everything should be sourced. The crowd here agrees, we should be explicit about the position on data, sourcing gives legitimacy.

Kamal Sinclair and the team from Question Bridge are exploring identity, beginning with black males in America. For Kamal, visualization also has the potential to overcome limitations, it introduces interconnectedness in the midst of our own biased dichotomies. The question moving forward is how can technology empower identity beyond the framework of census boxes.

PI 2011 participants are pushing the limits of this year's Indigenous Science theme. They offer us a challenge: how does science lend itself to tool creation and immersive storytelling? Some of the projects seem to have already breached the answers.

In no particular order:

Rekindling Venus: Bringing awareness and attention to the extraordinary symbiosis of animal and algae in the coral ecosystem and the very real impacts of climate change.
Question Bridge: Transforming preconceptions about black males through video-mediated dialogue.
Wikilakes: Empowering Kashmiri communities to preserve their environment through game think.
We Were Here: Developing interactive curriculum that honors the memory of victims of the San Francisco HIV/AIDS epidemic.
Mapping Earth's Keepers: Developing tools for Chiapas locals to communicate with government and institutions on sustainable environmental practices.BAVC

All of these teams are currently at the drawing board, designing the applications, interactions and experiences we will hopefully be able to encounter in the near future.