Illustration by John Wehmann for the Urban Institute

Data@Urban Digital Discussions

The COVID-19 pandemic is effecting how we work and communicate with each other. Many of us are accustomed to walking down the hall and chatting with a colleague or friend. We get together for lunch, talk about work and life, or, as colleagues on my floor know, give and get high fives on my way for more hot tea. As we distance ourselves and video chats and webinars become the norm, it’s normal that we may start to feel lonely.

In an attempt to break through the digital divide and try to better connect with one another, I thought it’d be valuable to have a series of live video discussions with people in the data and data visualization fields. The goal is simple: to connect (or reconnect) with friends, colleagues, and others with similar interests, challenges, and questions.

The structure of the new Data@Urban Digital Discussions is a one-hour live conversation where my guest and I talk for 20 to 30 minutes and then turn it over to you, the attendees. Guests are encouraged to talk directly with the guest so we needn’t rely on the impersonal chat window.

Putting these chats together is not as simple as opening a Zoom session and clicking “record.” I work with the Urban Institute events team, who helps compile and organize the material for the webpage; our social media team helps promote the sessions on Twitter and Facebook; the design team creates the graphic at the beginning of each session, and our tech and data team maintains the organization’s Zoom account.

For the actual session, I have two computers running simultaneously. The first is my primary computer where I talk with my guest. My personal setup — now at home — is a MacBook Pro connected to a 27” Dell monitor. I also use a Logitech webcam and Blue Snowball microphone. After talking with Ann Emery on last week’s video chat, I’m also working on improving the lighting in my office. The second computer is a small Asus laptop, so I can see what attendees are seeing and a bigger version of the chat window.

I ask attendees to post their questions to the chat window or raise their hand, and then unmute them one at a time so they can ask their question directly to the guest. One of the goals of these chats is to help us all stay connected, so I don’t want to just read question after question. I hope this also gives attendees an opportunity to talk to people in the field they may not otherwise have a chance to talk to.

If you would like to join these discussions, please head over to Urban’s events page, where we keep an updated list of upcoming speakers and provide links to video recordings.

Upcoming discussions

Harry Stevens | Thursday, March 26, 2:00–3:00 p.m. (EDT)

If you haven’t seen Harry Stevens’s great new animated and interactive data visualization about COVID-19 at the Washington Post, you’re missing out. Harry will talk about the project and maybe give a behind-the-scenes look. Harry on Twitter.

Echo Rivera | Friday, March 27, 4:00–5:00 p.m. (EDT)

Echo helps people create better reports and presentations. She has a number of virtual webinars, so, among other things, we’ll spend some time talking about how to work better when you’re home. Echo on Twitter.

Graham MacDonald and Claire Bowen | Monday, March 30, 1:00–2:00 p.m. (EDT)

Graham is the chief data scientist and Claire is the lead data scientist for privacy and data security at the Urban Institute. We’ll talk about their current work and how they’re helping researchers understand data security and privacy in the age of big data. Graham on Twitter. Claire on Twitter.

Previous discussions

Nigel Holmes | Thursday, March 19, 2:00–3:00 p.m. (EDT)

To kick things off, Jon is joined by Nigel Holmes, a graphic designer, author, and theorist. You might know him from his work at Time magazine. Nigel is the perfect guest to premiere this Discussion series because he can talk about teaching data visualization and design to kids. Nigel on Twitter.

Ann Emery | Friday, March 20, 1:00–2:00 p.m. (EDT)

Jon’s friend Ann Emery joined to talk about her dataviz work, travel, and creating good-looking reports. And because Ann has her own great virtual classes, they talk about what it takes to have an awesome home office and webinar setup. Ann on Twitter.

RJ Andrews | Monday, March 23, 3:00–4:00 p.m. (EDT)

Author RJ Andrews joined the Discussion series to talk about his new Kickstarter campaign for his cool California map, plus whatever weird and arcane topic is at the top of his mind. RJ on Twitter.

Allison Feldman | Tuesday, March 24, 2:00–3:00 p.m. (EDT)

Allison is a design specialist at the Urban Institute. Jon and Allison chat about her design work and her love of Figma. They also talk about her cover design for the recently-published Elevate the Debate book. Allison at the Urban Institute.

Andy Kirk | Wednesday, March 25, 10:00–11:00 a.m. (EDT)

Data visualization specialist Andy Kirk joins the Discussion series to talk about his work, his data visualization roundups, and much more. Lots to cover. Andy on Twitter.

-Jon Schwabish

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