Creating Technology for Social Change

Mural-ing Our Way to Data Literacy

Last Tuesday Groundwork Somerville officially dedicated their South Street Farm and with it, the exciting new data mural that the Green Team has worked so hard to finish painting.

The Story

The mural is one of our four pilot Data Murals – an infographic that tells the story of what Groundwork Somerville does. It begins with a man reaching for a basket of veggies. Across his chest it says “healthy food is hard to get”. The story then moves from the cost of healthy food and the number of people with prediabetes to the number of unused lots in somerville and how much land has been reclaimed for urban farming. It shows the mobile market that brings affordable produce to low income neighborhoods (and how many people visit the markets), and shows the number of youth who participate in garden programs and some of the impacts the programming has on them. It then shows a united, healthy and wealthy community.

The Reaction

One woman who saw the mural for the first time sad “I think its great, informative, its easy to take all the information in. I didn’t realize so much land had been turned into veggie beds.” Another man shared, “The mural is what I gravitated to. Especially the part with the number of people served by the outreach market“

And here is Somerville’s Mayor Curtatone talking about how important Groundworks’ efforts are.

You can browse their photos of the event.

Positive Outcomes

At the event we had a chance to talk to some of the painters, to Groundwork Somerville staff, and to people who were seeing the mural for the first time. We asked them about what story they think the mural tells, what they learned from the mural or from the process of creating it, and what they would change about the process for next time. The response was overwhelmingly positive, and it was encouraging to see that people who were seeing the mural for the first time understood the story that it was trying to tell. Many people learned new facts about Somerville and about groundwork’s successes, and others were impressed by how completely the mural transformed what had been an old rusty fenced-in lot into a welcoming garden space.

One of the most exciting findings for us was that everyone we spoke to who participated in creating the mural said that even though they had never designed an infographic before, they now think they could create their own infographic with other information. This represents important capacity building for the Groundwork Somerville staff (one of whom claims that in general she’s “terrible with data, especially making sense of it” but now feels she knows “how to take data and make a story”) and for the youth who participated. One High School-age Green Team member explained that what he learned from the process is “that by pictures you can also send out a message.”

This is super-exciting!  We just showed that the Data Mural process can:

  • increase data literacy in the general public and participants
  • effectively conveying a story through a data visual painted as a mural
  • change attitudes towards data-driven storytelling
  • bring previously hidden data to the public

We’re still doing evaluation on the other pilot projects, but these are great results to be seeing so early!

This post was written by my collaborator Emily Bhargava, and posted to her Connection Lab blog