Dr. Rahul Bhargava is on a mission to get people to think differently—and critically—about data. From his location as a research scientist at the Center for Civic Media, a unit within MIT’s iconic Media Lab, Dr. Bhargava works with civil society groups, communities, journalists and students to build a greater awareness of data and the stories that can be told with it. Our lives are in many ways being driven and framed by data, in both direct and indirect ways, making it increasingly important to develop a critical appreciation of data-driven decision making and its implications. Dr. Bhargava’s “data culture project” aims to do this for a variety of audiences, at different levels of complexity.

Dr. Rahul Bhargava

Dr. Rahul Bhargava’s background in computer science and education coupled with his civic engagement projects at the Media Lab give him an appreciation of the various layers of data readiness and the different ways in which information is harvested, analyzed and deployed. He has worked with diverse groups as part of the data culture project, from elementary schools in the Boston area to newsrooms across the US to students in Brazil and libraries in Denmark and global non-profits in Italy.

As a visiting fellow at the Department of Communication, University of Hyderabad(UoH) in August, Dr. Bhargava shared insights with students and conducted a series of workshops on the broad theme of data storytelling for audiences in Hyderabad. His visit offered the Department an opportunity to reach out to specific interest groups in the city—itself a form of civic engagement that is very much part of a larger vision of taking the University to the community.

The first of these was a workshop for the Department’s MA students on data-driven storytelling, where Dr. Bhargava helped the traditionally data-shy media students understand how to read and generate data driven narratives, as well as dive a little bit into how to handle different kinds of data. This was followed by a two-day workshop for NGOs from the city, where a dozen or so young social sector professionals explored questions and concerns around data storytelling for social change. In the last workshop, journalists in the city had an opportunity to “exercise their data-literacy muscle” while also understanding how stories move and gain attention in the digital ecosystem.

In addition, Dr. Bhargava over the duration of his visit, interacted with PhD students and faculty in small group sessions around themes of specific interest relating to their research and teaching. Apart from a more general need to acquire a critical data literacy, the idea and reality of datafication has become an important theme in media and communication studies, and Dr. Bhargava’s visit offered the Department a chance to engage with some of these broader questions.