Engaging Communities with Data and Storytelling

Data on their own does not convey much meaning. A bunch of numbers, whether 100 or 1 billion does not, on its own, does not describe a phenomenon or a relationship. It is the stories that we tell with data –nonfiction stories, stories based on facts — that lead us to facts, argumentation and understanding.

To be an informed world citizen, we all need to be able to weigh evidence in front of us, evidence in all forms whether presented in the news, by teachers and by our governments. We need to be critical consumers of information, approaching other people’s arguments with a cynical though not skeptical eye and with the ability to make arguments of our own. We need to understand that what we perceive as relationships between occurrences might not be supported by evidence and, even if they are, they may not be causal.

The goal of my current work is to support people to understand how to use data to create meaningful about their local communities. In particular, I am interested in supporting people to tell civic and environmental stories with an eye to make data-supported arguments that can be used to advocate for their community’s needs. Through many years introducing people to working with data, I’ve developed some simple ways to make data projects fun and playful. These simple techniques help to explain some key ideas related to data, including the difference between correlation and causation, why hypotheses matter, how putting a stake in the ground helps you to form theories, how to know how to trust a source and their interpretation, and how to make data-driven arguments of their own.