Data Science by Design (DSxD): A Community of Creators

12 November 2021

By Sara Stoudt, Valeri Vasquez, and Ciera Martinez

A whiteboard with all kinds of writing on it

It all started with a drawing:

Ciera, Sara, and Valeri were working on  the initial concept of a paper about data analysis workflows. The process forced us to articulate how we carry out our data-intensive work. How do we maintain reproducibility even in the preliminary phase of data exploration? What practices do we or could we borrow from design principles and software development to refine those explorations into defined research questions and pipelines? Beyond the academic paper, what outputs could come of this process? Educational products? Art? Research accessible via auditory rather than visual means? Our interest in the overall research workflow, the non-traditional products that could come of it, and desire to communicate about both the process and its outputs with diverse audiences got us thinking. How could we engage with others interested in the creative side of data-intensive work?

Thanks to generous funding from the ADSA Career Development Network and from Code for Science & Society, Data Science by Design (DSxD) was born. Our goal was to establish a community of practice rooted in data narratives and the many ways they can be created, explored, and shared. We wanted to take advantage of creative mediums and non-traditional perspectives to help expand who sees themselves as a data scientist. Our first step was to show others - and ourselves - the breadth of possibilities by exploring what data scientists are already creating. Enter the Creator Conf!

Creator Conf: A Conference to Celebrate Creativity in Data Science

At Creator Conf, the goal was to highlight the process behind data-intensive work, both inside the world of research and outside.  The dream was to gather people from as many perspectives as possible to discuss what inspires our data-centric work and to share how we achieve transparency in that process and its final products.

As we worked towards hosting Creator Conf, the amazing members of the DSxD leadership team joined us to hone the original vision and turn it into reality; they continue to be central members of the DSxD community and leadership organizational efforts.

Despite this being a virtual event, we were blown away by the participants’ energy. We wanted to create some activation energy for creation by having hands-on activities accompany talks, and the participants eagerly engaged with one another and the speakers.

Community of Practice

Creator Conf served kicked off the establishment of a like-minded community, and this community is now flourishing! We support one another and provide feedback on eachothers’ creative endeavors, including through many spontaneous and self-organized initiatives happening over the past summer - the summer we’re calling “Summer of Design.” Our activities so far have included:

  • #RecreationThursday, “a social project for data visualization folks to recreate and remix existing art pieces through any medium of their choosing - through code, painting, music, embroidery, whatever!”,
  • A regularly convening book club that read and discussed Data Feminism by Catherine D'Ignazio and Lauren F. Klein and is currently working its way through Design Justice: Community-Led Practices to Build the Worlds We Need by Sasha Costanza-Chock.
  • Regular one-on-one as well as group-based accountability check ins via the DSxD community Slack channels, and
  • 10 projects or pieces funded by the DSxD creator grants.

Designing and Building the Future of Data Science

Our next step is to bring the many beautiful and informative products generated by the DSxD community into a printed anthology. The vision is that this book collects the creations of DSxD into a piece that can be widely shared in hardcopy as well as online. The theme of the  anthology was based on the opening discussion of CreatorConf, which discussed what participants want and need for the data science community and data science practice of the future. Accessibility and inclusion are essential themes of this future, and we look forward to embracing and supporting the non-traditional forms that this can take. Stay tuned for an anthology launch in the new year!

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