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Professor Jeff South promotes ‘open data’ in Azerbaijan

Aug 5, 2018

Posted in: News

At the request of the U.S. State Department, associate professor Jeff South visited Azerbaijan this summer to present lectures on “open data” and “civic hacking” and conduct a data journalism workshop for news reporters and editors.


South spent a week in May in Baku, capital of the former Soviet republic on the Caspian Sea, as part of the State Department’s U.S. Speaker Program. During the visit, which was hosted by the U.S. Embassy in Baku and the Eurasia Partnership Foundation, he met with Azerbaijani journalists, journalism students, government officials and citizens.

“It was an exciting opportunity to discuss how citizens and journalists can use data to improve society,” South said. “As governments and other institutions put more data online, we can use it to foster transparency, accountability, economic development and access to government services.”

In presentations at the Baku IdeaLab and Baku American Center, South discussed the open data movement – the trend for government agencies and nongovernmental organizations to make their data accessible to citizens. He explained how “civic hackers” have used the data to create mobile apps, such as tools to track the location of public transportation, apply for business permits and allow citizens to “adopt” and care for trees and other public amenities.


South also gave a data journalism lesson to journalism students at Baku State University and conducted a two-day workshop on online research, data analysis and data visualization for more than 25 professional journalists.

Working in teams, the journalists selected newsworthy topics and then researched and produced stories on a range of issues, including immigration, the cost of living and government spending. All of the stories were posted online.

South and two other experts judged the work and, with input from the workshop participants, selected the four best projects. The winning teams received small monetary awards, ranging from the equivalent of $90 to $15.

“Then the winners did something so inspiring in a country where the average monthly salary is just a few hundred dollars: They each agreed to donate one-third of their winnings to charity,” South said.

All of the workshop participants received certificates.


South said he hopes his visit planted seeds for the use of data. He hopes to return to Azerbaijan someday and find out.

“Whether you are a government official or a journalist or an everyday citizen, it’s critical to understand the importance of data,” he said. “Reliable statistics can help shape government policy, provide the foundation for enlightening news stories and empower citizens to make good decisions.”