SWCTN Data Fellowship – the Dot Insight inquiry

It has been an absolute honour and privilege to have been one of 24 fellows awarded the 2020-21 Data Fellowship from the South West Creative Technology Network (SWCTN). Through the fellowship I have explored effective and inclusive community sense-making through system mapping, evolving DOT INSIGHT into a practice and platform for social impact.

This has been quite a journey, and one in such a pivotal year in our history, when sensemaking and all things “mapping” became a necessity to navigate new paths through the pandemic of covid-19.


DOT PROJECT are passionate connectors and convenors. We seize every opportunity to work within and across networks, networks of specialists and passionate changemakers where every project is full of learning and new potential. Of course working in this way isn’t easy. It takes energy to discover networks and to make connections, to make sense of what exists and where there are opportunities to convene and bring skills together.

I strive to make sense of the whole, building common understanding and to see patterns for shifting and improving what exists. I am a natural sensemaker. I rely heavily on my skills as a convenor to do this, connections foster relationships, build community, and spur opportunities for change.

DOT INSIGHT is the manifestation of what is core to the DNA of DOT PROJECT membership – our belief in collective action, social impact, openness and trust. Our vision for DOT INSIGHT is to enable civil society and public sector sensemaking through low cost, easy to access practice and data platform that advocates collaboration, open data principles, responsibility and convening through participatory approaches.


We have taken a very pragmatic approach to the first iterations of DOT INSIGHT, preferring to learn in a practical way, and to be honest gut instinct. The SWCTN fellowship has allowed time to integrate theory to our practice. The start of the fellowship back in March 2020 – lockdown #1 – meant time to step back from practical practice to learn and discover the theoretical principles and origins that underpin our work. I have been able to map my learning journey through the resources, sources of wisdom and theories which has inspired further iterating DOT INSIGHT during the fellowship months.

I have been drawn to a core set of theories and of course they come from very different domains – sociology, psychology, information technology. I’ve been drawn to these key themes which you will see reflected in the DOT INSIGHT resources which I continue to evolve.

Data, Information and Knowledge – first reflecting on the relationship between data, information and knowledge and creating knowledge through a sensemaking process. Thick data and social learning, explicit knowledge and knowledge transfer.

What is systems thinking, how do we think in systems? Actor mapping and systems thinking, social network analysis and identifying patterns, feedback loops, network weaving

Community mapping – our mapping is rooted in the same theory of community mapping, the process and output of a community getting together to “map its own assets, values, beliefs or any other self-selected variable”.

Participatory practices and the art of convening – the role and skill of convening, participatory data collection: community aggregated data, data polling, co-intelligence

Networks and collaboration – network building and community / collective action – network co-design.

System mapping tools – I have explored a variety of tools for data sensemaking and “mapping“, from Google Sheets to Google Data Studio, Kumu to Sumapp, Microsoft BI to Tableau. The prototype I’ve developed sits as a data model and database in Airtable, acting as a central repository that allows rough data to be compiled, and exported into any of the platforms listed to enable intuitive ways to explore data.

Data stories – data storytelling, narrative data analysis and visual maps, developing tools for common understanding, collective storytelling

Ethics and bias – I’ve learnt the importance of data ethics in our system mapping work, exploring use of ODI data ethics framework, practical development of mapping guiding principles for each of our projects and embedding ethics through the practice.

Open data – to avoid duplication of effort and to achieve value for money, I believe in creating datasets that can benefit and grow with each other. I have explored a variety of structures and models that allow for collective ownership and shared responsibility around data which particularly interests me.


This is not an exhaustive list but I’ve come across and spoken to some fabulous practitioners, I thank each and every one of you for guiding my learning through our conversation, or the work you have publically shared.

  • Sam and Simon at Free Ice Cream sharing project learnings from community mapping and underlying mapping platform
  • Lucy and Martin at The Data Place
  • Richard Briony and Keith at Rocketmakers, providing innovation workshops and technical scoping for DOT INSIGHT data platform
  • Sam at Consequential for embedding data ethics into our practice and approach
  • Lauren at Noisy Cricket testing our practice through Ethical Tech Manchester
  • Rebecca Rae-Evans at We are Reply testing our practice through Tech4Good community mapping
  • The Catalyst for testing our data model during the launch of covid-19 funding and mapping digital expertise
  • Pete at Practical Governance
  • David Gurteen and our wonderful conversation in the art of world cafe online and conversational leadership
  • Kate at Shared Assets
  • David and Drew for continually inspiring conversations and mapping expertise
  • Phoebe at The National Lottery Digital Fund, a natural sensemaker and practitioner
  • The Social Change Agency for inspiring tools and practice for network building
  • Marissa at Diversily, embedding inclusion and a canvas approach to our practice
  • Marnie at Marnie & Co for further road testing our methods and data model.
  • and of course the SWCTN team and other data fellows, in particular Alex Hilson, Pete Quinn Davis and Natasha Nicholson for our sensemaking collaboration.


I’ve been fortunate enough to continue to have practical “case studies” in which to test and refine our prototype practice, and in particular the underlying sensemaking data model. Some of these can be seen through the case studies of Inclusion Bath project, Tech Talent Charter project, Beyond project.

I now have a framework, tools and partners for key phases of our sensemaking practice.


The Dot Insights platform comprises a couple of commercially available platforms which have been chosen for features and ease of use. We use Airtable as the data entry and storage platform. Through the fellowship I have been further investigating alternative platforms, partners and sources of funding to address some of the challenges we currently face with the scale of sharing and collaboration we strive to achieve. We were unsuccessful in the SWCTN data prototyping challenge, and so continue to seeking a way in which to build a ‘platform’, or stage around our Airtable data model that facilitates both the import and export of data, and a form of “data hub” to further enable user-led exploration of specific data sets.