Telling Your Story Well

I just hosted a workshop today at the Stanford Do Good Data / Data on Purpose “from Possibilities to Responsibilities” event.  My workshop, called “Telling Your Story Well”, focused on how to flesh out your audience and goals well so that you can pick a presentation technique that is effective.  We did some hands-on exercises to practice using those as criteria for telling your story well.

One key takeway is the reminder to know your audience and your goals before deciding how to tell your data-driven story.

Folks dove into the activity we did – remixing an infographic to target a specific audience and an achievable change.

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For example, here’s a sketch of one group’s idea of an interactive data sculpture that dumps stuff on you based on how much water your purchases at a grocery store took to generate!

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Empowering People With Data Workshop

I just ran a workshop for attendees at the 2017 UN World Data Forum in Cape Town, called Empowering People with Data: tips and tricks for creative data literacy”.  This was a great chance to connect my activities, and my work with Catherine D’Ignazio on DataBasic.io, to the non-profits and government statistical bureaus.  We’ll be doing more of this, as NGOs are coming to me more often to talk about helping them build their capacity to tell strong stories with their information.

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building a data sculpture (most materials were bought locally)

Many in the audience came up afterwards and were excited to bring the activities and approaches back to their organizations! Our fun activities were definitely new and novel for their world, and they immediately saw the value for many of the stakeholders they work with.

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sketching a story about lyrics found using our WordCounter tool

I’ve posted the slides on slideshare.net.  With examples including Praxis India, GoBoston2030, our data murals, and Peabody’s history quilt, I hope they created a richer set of inspirations for how to make working with data participatory and empowering!

 

Data Haves and Data Have-Nots

This week I’m at the Data Literacy Conference in France. One of the reasons I’m super excited about this because it is a gathering of people I’ve been wanting to talk to for years! Although there are tons of conferences about data, they are few conferences focused on the literacy aspect, so I thank Fing for putting this together.  Catherine D’Ignazio and I both presented a talk and workshop.  You see can see our slides for our talk about Bridging the Gap Between Data Haves and Data Haven-Nots.  It focused on describing how to help two audiences:

  1. We want to help those in power, the “Data-Haves”, learn how to present their data in more appropriate ways.
  2. We want to help those that don’t usually have power, the “Data Have-Nots”, build their capacity to use data to create change in the world around them.

Too often we focus on just the second goal, ignoring the needs of those that have the data.

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We also ran a workshop for about 20 attendees, focused on how our DataBasic activities can help build data literacy in a variety of ways.

Overall the conference was a wonderful gathering of like-minded individuals.  Catherine and live-blogged the plenary talks:

Talking Data with Museum Visitors

Last weekend I had the pleasure of running a data sculpture workshop for the public at the MIT museum’s Idea Hub. They offer hands on activities for museum visitors every Sunday, and after chatting we decided to try adding my activity to the lineup. With an amazing set of craft materials, and some one-page data prompts about MIT, we invited visitors to drop in and find data-driven stories they could tell by building simple sculptures.  The sheets included information about the amount of sleep students get, the cost of undergraduate education in the US, and happiness in Somerville.

It was so fun to be able to have his conversation with a random set of curious folks. As we built things we chatted about loads of topics related to data literacy. Some people dig into how you could find simple or complex stories in such small datasets. Others explored how to present the impact of the data, not the data itself. Some decided to use totally different data, related to their lives. This variety created a great set of evocative examples that made discussions later in the afternoon even richer.

I used to do a lot more museum works, so it was a pleasure to be back in that setting. Museums prime people’s brains to be curious, so it’s wonderful to offer an invitation i that space to discuss and explore a topic more deeply. Actually when I was a student here at MIT i volunteered at the museum, helping run robotics workshops for kids and adults with my good friend Stephanie Hunt. It felt great to be back!

I look forward to dropping in when the museum staff runs this on their own. Can’t wait to see how they make it even better.

Here is a list of some of the data sculptures people made:

Tools for Teachers

My background is in education, so I’m always excited when I get run a workshop for teachers.  Earlier this morning I had a chance to lead a workshop and conversation with 50 teachers from the Nord Anglia network of private schools, who have partnered with MIT Museum and the Cambridge Science Festival to think harder about STEAM education at various age levels.

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I introduced a number  of the activities I run, and the DataBasic.io suite. After each took a step back and asked participants to reflect on them as educators.  This created some wonderful conversations about everything from building critical data thinking to the inspirations I draw from formal arts education. I look forward to chances to work with these teachers more!

Here’s a link the slides I used.

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What Would Mulder Do?

The semester has started again at MIT, which means I’m teaching a new iteration of my Data Storytelling Studio course.  One of our first sessions focuses on learning to ask questions of your data… and this year that was a great change to use the new WTFcsv tool I created with Catherine D’Ignazio.

wtf-screenshotThe vast majority of the students decided to work with our fun UFO sample data.  They came up with some amazing questions to ask, with a lot of ideas about connecting it to other datasets.  A few focused in on potential correlations with sci-fi shows on TV (perhaps inspired by the recent reboot of the X Files).

One topic I reflected on with students at the close of the activity was that the majority of their questions, and the language they used to describe them, came from a point of view that doubted the legitimacy of these UFO sightings.  They wanted to “explain” the “real” reason for what people saw.  They were assuming that the sightings were people imagining what they saw was aliens, which of course couldn’t be true.

Now, with UFO sightings this isn’t especially offensive.  However, with datasets about more serious topics, it’s important to remember that we should approach them from an empathetic point of view.  If we want to understand data reported by people, we need to have empathy for where the data reporter is coming from, despite any biases or pre-existing notions we might have about the legitimacy of the what they say happened.

This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t be skeptical of data; by all means we should be!  However, if we only wear our skeptical hat we miss a whole variety of possible questions we could be asking our dataset.

So, when it comes to UFO sightings, be sure to wonder “What would Mulder do?” 🙂

Workshop: Communicating Impact in the Arts

I just had the pleasure of co-presenting a workshop for the National Guild for Community Arts Education with their Boston Ambassador, Kathe Swaback of Raw Art Works.  We focused on inspiring arts organizations to use their data to demonstrate their impact in creative ways.  The presentation I used is hosted on Prezi.com.

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I shared some powerful examples and helped them talk to each other about the challenges and successes in their organizations.

One challenge in our conversations was getting from mission, to outcomes, to ways to measure those outcomes and evaluate impact.  We took the approach of inspiring folks with ways they could communicate those data-stories once they had the data, rather than getting mired down in their individual outcome-identification processes.  The Guild is creating separate programs to help them do that, so I didn’t feel bad about taking this jump.

We practiced using different types of data presentation techniques using an excerpt from the MuralsArts PorchLight evaluation done by the Yale School of Medicine.  After scanning the handout, I assigned each small group a technique to use.

They came up with amazingly creative ways to tell the impact stories they saw in the data.  Everything from expressive data dancing, to participatory interviews where people move to answer questions!  I look forward to seeing how these organizations can adopt and try out some of these techniques.