Data Therapy for Data-Driven Journalism | MIT Center for Civic Media
Rahul Bhargava is a researcher and technologist specializing in civic technology and data literacy. He creates interactive websites used by hundreds of thousands, playful educational experiences across the globe, and award-winning visualizations for museum settings. As a Research Scientist at the MIT Center for Civic Media, Rahul leads technical development on projects ranging from interfaces for quantitative news analysis, to platforms for crowd-sourced sensing. He has a special interest in how new technologies are introduced to people in settings focused on learning. Rahul is a drummer and father based in Somerville, MA.
Data Therapy for Data-Driven Journalism
Earlier this week we hosted a Hacks/Hackers meetup where I offered some Data Therapy to attendees. It was a great chance for me to target my efforts to encourage more creative data presentation at a particular audience - journalists and data scientists. We had a engaging workshop with about 100 people in attendance - lots of insightful questions and conversations about how to tell stories better with data.
Data Therapy is my ongoing effort to bridge the gap between data presentation tools and folks that aren't data geeks. As more and more tools lower the barrier to entry for creating data presentation, we need to help burgeoning data scientists learn how to pick the appropriate techniques for presenting their data to their audience, based on the data and their goals
We need to change the easy option. The current path of least resistance is Powerpoint, so we end up with a lot of Powerpoint bar charts. Now Wordle is close behind, so we're seeing a lot of word clouds. These tools aren't being used so often because they are intrinsically more appropriate ways to present datasets, but rather because they are easy and well-known. We need to encourage more questions early in the process. How do you know if you should show your geo-coded population data as a bar graph or on a map? How do you pick between presenting your demographic data to a group as a pie chart, or using a stand-up/sit-down physical interaction?
There is no one right answer, but in my Data Therapy workshops I try to help by:
- providing a process so you consider all the right information for making the decision in front of you
- presenting a number of real-world examples
- sharing tips and tricks for best practices
- reminding everyone to be creative (visualization is cool, but isn't always the right thing to do)
- connecting people with others who have similar challenges
Interested? Need some therapy? After four years of hosting workshops I'm still trying to sort this all out, but am convinced that the needs exists and is not being met. Keep an eye on my blog (datatherapy.org). Follow me on Twitter at @rahulbot. Let me know about any good examples and resources.