Developing a Data Story

Instead of starting directly with data, we began our data story for the Food For Free mural by listening to a verbal narrative of the organization’s history and impact from one of its leaders. We heard about Food For Free’s beginnings, its expansion throughout the greater-Boston area, and its plans for the future. After hearing the story, we were presented with data, some of which was on a global level, some on a local level. Equipped with data and an understanding of the organization, we set out to define a story that we wanted our mural to convey. We started out with verbal stories: sentences about the organization’s history, its impact, and its community partners. These separate ideas were then combined into one cohesive short verbal narrative about Food For Free. In deciding on our narrative, we followed a method similar to that suggested by Colin Ware and sought to “capture the cognitive thread of the audience”. We wanted the audience to feel engaged in our story and compelled to action as a result of encountering it.

Next we set out to transform our words into a picture. However, as Ware points out, verbal narrative “incorporates a form of logic that is quite distinct from the logic of visual representation”. To overcome the challenge of translating words into a picture, we each drew a picture of the data story and combined the common themes. We used both literal depictions, such as trucks and food, and metaphorical depictions, such as a tree and roots, to signify the story of Food For Free. Because we are producing one still image, we are faced with the challenge of telling a narrative history without including multiple time points. In this respect, the symbolism of the growing tree serves as an effective focal point in communicating Food For Free’s story. Finally, as Ware explains the importance of, we decided to use a road to frame our picture, helping to focus the audience’s attention.

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