What Improv Storytelling has to offer to Data Artists

In 2015, Ben Wellington gave a TEDx talk on how he borrowed principles from his lifelong love for Improv Comedy and applied it to his Data Visualization practice. “I accidentally became a data storyteller,” he says.

“The Open Data Laws are really exciting for people like me because it takes data that is inside City Government, and suddenly allows anyone to look at it.”

The narrative that came out of contextualizing this data spotted zones that fervent NYC cyclists are better off avoiding and shed some light on the battle strategies of new yorkers’ favorite pharmacies. Wellington closes the distance between Data Viz and Improv by ‘Connecting with People’s Experiences’ and ‘Conveying one simple (and powerful) idea at a time’.

Alan Alda, the seven-time emmy winning actor of M*A*S*H along with Ocean and Environmental Scientist and Associate Director at The Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, Dr. Christine O’Connell experimented with a group of scientists, doctors and engineers in 2016 in a workshop to employ Improv Storytelling in communicating their research.

“I think anybody that studies something so deeply, whether you’re an engineer, whether you’re an artist, whether you’re in business, you forget what it’s like not to know” – O’Connell

Empathy lies at the heart of Improv and therefore, at the heart of good communication. The idea of speaking to your audience and working with them to create a common language and evolve into clarity is especially relevant for Data Scientists and Data Artists.

The Data Artist creates an imaginary, artificial environment not dissimilar to that of an Improv actor where certain cues are visible and certain others have to be made up. The logic of this environment, however, needs to be consistent and is as important as the trust established within it.

“Even small breaks can affect credibility. – When we visualize data, we are (asking our audience to suspend their understanding of reality for a moment and accept new rules and conditions). We are asking our audience to understand shapes and forms on a digital screen to be something other than what they are.” – Ryan Morrill, Storybench, October 2017.

The Data Viz equivalent of Laughter in an Improv Comedy Scene is the deriving of Insight, says Morrill, where the logic reveals a reward.

A History of Data Journalism

We have been using data to explain our world for a long time. Data journalism is no exception. We have, as marketing strategist Andrea Lehr explains, been looking at data to help us tell stories for maybe even longer then we’ve thought. In this interview with Kristen Hare at Poynter, Lehr shares some of the findings from her recent report on the history of data journalism.

When staffers at the marketing agency Fractl decided to look into data journalism, they went way back. Way back. As they note, a kind of data journalism was used in the Han dynasty.

“I was most surprised to learn just how long the concept has been around,” said Andrea Lehr, a strategist at Fractl.

In 1849, for instance, The New York Tribune used a chart to show how many lives were being lost to cholera.

Fractl has seen an increase in data journalism among the publishers it works with, so staffers compiled a report on the storytelling method. The agency also spoke with several data journalists as part of the project, including FiveThirtyEight’s Allison McCann and Nathaniel Lash of the Poynter-owned Tampa Bay Times.

Lehr spoke with Poynter about the report via email.

Read the rest of the interview with Lehr at Poynter

How Data-driven Programs are Reducing Gun Violence

Ted Alcorn at Wired brings us this great piece on how data-driven programs are being used in several US cities as a way to reduce gun violence:

At their core, data tell stories. They reveal patterns, show changes over time, and confirm or challenge our theories. And in cities across the country, mayors, police chiefs, and other local leaders are turning to data to help them understand and address gun violence, one of the most persistent crises they face.

Innovative, data-driven programs are showing encouraging results. To keep high school students on the right track, the city of Chicago scaled up a school-based program called Becoming a Man for seventh through tenth graders living in neighborhoods with high rates of violence. The students reflect on their life goals, observe how their automatic responses inside school and outside school differ, and learn to slow down and react more thoughtfully to these sometimes divergent social environments. An adaptive behavior on the street, like fighting back to develop a reputation of toughness that could deter future victimization, will be maladaptive in other social situations. To test the impact of the program, the University of Chicago Crime Lab built a rigorous evaluation into its rollout. After two years, they were able to show that participants were 50 percent less likely to be arrested for a violent crime than students in a control group, and those students graduated at a rate 19 percent higher than those who did not participate. This close analysis of the program affords new insight into what makes the program work, and how to enhance it and apply it in other settings.

Read the whole article at Wired: One Great Way to Reduce Gun Violence? A Whole Lot of Data