R Consortium’s R User Group and Small Conference Support Program (RUGS) provides grants to help R groups around the world organize, share information and support each other. The wealth of knowledge in the community and the drive to learn and improve is inspiring. We were able to talk to Adriano Belisario, program manager at School of Data Brazil (Open Knowledge Brazil) and associated researcher at MediaLab.UFRJ to find out more about the da R community in Brazil, how they are dealing with the pandemic, what trends are happening in R in Brazil, and how they are heading forward.
RC: What is the R community like in Brazil?
The R community in Brazil is very vibrant and generous. There are a lot of initiatives like meetups, events, open classes, and tutorials for people who want to learn to program in R. Personally, I would like to highlight three initiatives from the Brazilian community: R Ladies Brazil, Curso-R, and R Brasil Telegram group.
In a country with so many levels of inequality, the R Ladies Brazil does an amazing work on making sure that R would be accessible to women and other underrepresented groups. Curso-R creates courses, free books, tutorials and a lot of excellent materials for those who use R in Brazil. They also have a YouTube channel that provides live streams, debates and live coding in Portuguese in R. Finally, the Telegram group has more than 2000 active members currently. It is a very active channel for the community, where people discuss, exchange information about events, support others with technical issues, and offer help to other users.
RC: How has COVID affected your ability to connect with members?
Since 2016, the School of Data Brazil has organized the Brazilian Conference on Data Journalism and Digital Methods (Coda.Br), the main event of this area in Latin America. This conference and most of our activities used to be in-person before COVID. The exception was an experience doing online courses (MOOCs) with the Knight Center for the Journalism in America (University of Texas), but since the beginning of the pandemic we needed to reinvent all of our methodologies, courses and community activities towards the online environment. Although we miss in person meetings, this change has allowed us to work with people all across Brazil. We had excellent results with the last conference, which was also supported by R Consortium.
RC: Can you tell us about one recent presentation or speaker that was especially interesting and what was the topic and why was it so interesting?
Talking about Coda.Br and R-Ladies, I will mention the presentation of Gabriela de Queiroz on AI Bias. She introduced the topic explaining for a broad audience some critical implications of AI nowadays. In the talk, Gabriela presented the general issue of dealing with bias in data and went over how to mitigate these biases using open-sources programs. She introduced toolkits, software, and libraries that are used to address this problem, like Fairlearn, Lift, What-If Tool and AI Fairness 360.
RC: What trends do you see in R language affecting your organization over the next year?
Thinking about not only my organization, but the entire field of data journalism and the use of R language by journalists, I would say that with the general election for the government coming up, access to election data, governmental budget might be an important topic. While we have access, it is not always easy to query it. There is a lot of work in collecting, preparing, cleaning, and transforming the data so it can be analyzed for public use. That’s why the work done by initiatives such as Brasil.IO or Base dos Dados is so important. They offer open data well structured, cleaned and ready to use. The last one also has a package in CRAN. So we might see some impact in terms of academic research and data journalism, since it is becoming easier to realize more complex analysis merging several datasets. Finally, along with the election, environmental data will be important as climate change is an urgent topic globally and locally. In School of Data Brazil, we have created a course about environmental data journalism, in partnership with the Earth Journalism Network.
RC: Do you know of any data journalism efforts by your members? If not, are there particular data journalism projects that you’ve seen in the last year that you feel had a positive impact on society?
Since the School of Data is focused on data journalism and data literacy, there are a lot of people across the country in our network with experiences in these fields. We also have a membership program with hundreds of journalists, researchers and developers. The program offers benefits such as webinars, dedicated channels and free entry in Coda.Br, for those who support our activities through a fee, as we are a nonprofit organization.
Another way we support data journalists is through the Claudio Weber Abramo Award. This awareness recognizes and stimulates high-level excellence in data journalism in Brazil. The award and this open forum we’ve created help to highlight the best works in the country and keep the community engaged. One of the highlights of the Award is the fact that the summary of all subscriptions of the last edition are available on the website.
RC: When is your next event? Please give details!
Our conference – Coda.Br – is going to be held online, November 8-13. Second online convention due to the pandemic.
RC: There are four projects that are R Consortium Top Level Projects. If you could add another project to this list for guaranteed funding for 3 years and a voting seat on the ISC, which project would you add?
I would love to see an effort to promote data literacy. Not just for journalists, but for everyone. We need to make sure that most people have access to the basic mindset to properly understand, analyze, and criticize data.
How do I Join?
R Consortium’s R User Group and Small Conference Support Program (RUGS) provides grants to help R groups around the world organize, share information and support each other. We have given grants over the past 4 years, encompassing over 65,000 members in 35 countries. We would like to include you! Cash grants and meetup.com accounts are awarded based on the intended use of the funds and the amount of money available to distribute. We are now accepting applications!