Hitchhiking Down the Data Story Telling Highway

Measure of American & DATA2GO: Data Story Telling on the Rise

(tl’dr: Telling a story about how we connect about telling stories.)

I recently enrolled in a course at the Knight Center’s Journalismcourses.org, “Data Exploration and Storytelling ( January 16 – February 26, 2017 )”. Why? As a composition teacher and as a writer, I find myself in need of the tools that help my readers understand data beyond text. In other words I need to become a better data storyteller.

In the forum where we introduce ourselves to each other I met Vartika Sinha. She cited as her inspiration a YouTube video by Ben Wellington for TEDxBroadway, “ Making Data Mean More Through Storytelling”. I watched it and was inspired myself. I immediately shared it with someone I know who is constantly trying to tell stories with maps, Daniel Bassill, and his organization, the Tutor/Mentor Institute.

I shared this video using Vialogues because it is such a simple tool for connecting across the gaps. Here it is.

(This video annotation service is free. If you wish to comment, then sign up. It is amazing.)

While there is no set protocol for doing this video annotation, typically, the originator of the vialogue will do their annotation, others will do their annotation, and then there will be threaded conversation and replies. Of course, we broke the ‘rules’. I did about five minutes worth of annotation and then Dan did the whole video. We are still working our way toward replies to each other’s notes.

There was one reply from Dan I could not ignore. His last note pointed me to a post about DATA2GO.NYC, a data visualization tool created by Measure of America (MoA). The article, “Connecting the Dots Toward Well-Being”, fit perfectly into the course I spoke of at the beginning of this post so I took some time to use my old skool annotation tool, Diigo, to dig deeper, to summarize, and to make sense of and perhaps internalize some of MoA’s discoveries about data storytelling. Here is a link to a Hackpad with my notes.

One of the themes in all my writing is the idea of working out loud. I am a firm believer in observing, describing and reflecting upon this mostly unseen and unremarked upon rhizomatic mat of connection. This particular riff above fits an idea that has been circulating to the top of my mind lately—the lowly hitchhiker. I am not referring to the lost art of hitching a ride, but rather to the weed seeds they call ‘hitchhikers’ in my neck of the hollar.

Hitchhiking is an evolutionary adaption by seeds to become more widespread. Humans link them to invasive species because it is such an effective survival trick. We call them weeds, but really they are just survivors. The suggestions the Measure of America makes I believe are ones that are intended to make data more ‘hitchhiker-ly’.

Some data is naturally ‘sticky’, but mostly, it slides off of our attention and understanding, falling to the ground, failing; however, the emotion of ‘story’ helps it stick. The data is the meat of the seed. It is the reason for telling the story. It is the DNA of meaning that we need to spread. We make information sticky in several ways. We make them useful or interesting, but the best way seems to be by enclosing them in a sticky story.

I am looking forward to learning a lot about data storytelling in my course. You can join with us here. It’s free in some ways but I suspect it will become very sticky, very soon.

How to remove small burrs, hitchhikers or sticky weeds from clothing.

Short helpful video on removing small burrs or hitchhikers from clothing after a trail run or hiking instead of picking them out one by one.

4 Replies to “Hitchhiking Down the Data Story Telling Highway”

  1. Terry, as you and Kevin take the story mapping course I encourage you to spend time reviewing these articles about drug abuse in America, which are illustrated with maps. http://mappingforjustice.blogspot.com/2016/09/understanding-growing-drug-crisis-in.html

    In the comment section I added a new article from The Guardian, which shows growth of the drug crisis since 1994. Appalachia and New England both have been hit hard. https://www.theguardian.com/society/ng-interactive/2016/may/25/opioid-epidemic-overdose-deaths-map

    While the article in The Guardian shows that public education can lower drug abuse, none of these talk about the “why” people turn to drugs question. You guys might explore this in your story maps and perhaps others will join you.

  2. Circling back here, thanks to the NetNarr Random Blog Post Finder … did you finish the Data Course? I keep getting emails from instructors that I glance at and then file away …
    Sorry I didn’t hang with you and it.
    Kevin

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