Topic

Presenting data in stories

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What are the objectives of data stories?

This topic has been adapted from materials prepared for the Sudan Evidence Base Programme, originally created by Eva Constantaras with support from the World Bank and the UK Department for International Development (DFID).

One of the biggest global achievements for global health over the last century has been the widespread introduction of vaccines to save lives.

Take this example: in the United States, a group of people who deny that medical vaccines work, or claim they are harmful, are believed to be putting public health at risk.

The visualisation on this page has a few basic components: years from left to right, a black vertical line representing the introduction of the vaccine, US states from top to bottom, and coloured squares indicating the number of people who have died from that disease. At a glance, a viewer can understand that with the introduction of vaccines, millions of lives have been saved across the country.

The visualisation is a simple fact-checking exercise to quell public hysteria about a proven scientific fact.

What issues in your community could be addressed with data? How can that data be put into a form that people will relate to, that will help them understand how the data can improve their quality of life? Telling an effective story is key to transforming data into insight and action.

In this topic, you will learn:

  • How to focus your data story based on your audience
  • How to use infographics
  • How to use charts
  • How to use maps
  • How to combine maps and charts
  • How to use news apps for data journalism

Understanding your audience

The form a data story takes depends a bit on the audience and your purpose. The audience may be a policymaker who you would like to make a specific decision based on that data, a general public that you are trying to help understand the complexities of an issue or a group of researchers who are weighing factors before developing recommendations. Data stories fall into a few general categories:

  • Collect information that we can use strategically
  • Influence policy
  • Inform public debate
  • Expose wrong-doing
  • Create awareness and understanding of complex issues
  • Explore options for solving problems using data

Let’s look at a few common types of data stories and discuss the following aspects: audience, information retention, emotional impact, and call to action.

Using infographics

Infographics are visual representations of data or knowledge intended to present information quickly and clearly to illustrate patterns or trends. They enable you to package different kinds of information together to deliver an accessible message about a topic.

Take a look at the above infographic published in a fact-check by PesaCheck, and try to answer these questions.

  • Who is the audience?
  • What information are they supposed to retain?
  • What should they do after seeing this?

 

Using charts

Charts are the most direct way to display data findings but often require a bit of interpretation from the audience. A strong narrative can help readers identify the important findings conveyed by the charts.

Take a look at the chart above showing a brief analysis of women and men’s involvement in education, politics, and professionalism, which are key factors to community development using data from The Global Gender Gap Report, 2020.

Now answer the same questions:

  • Who is the audience?
  • What information are they supposed to retain?
  • What should they do after seeing this?

Using charts (2)

Here is another example of a chart using data shared by the Inter-Parliamentary Union showing the National Assembly seats held in Malawi according to gender.

Again, think about these questions:

  • Who is the audience?
  • What information are they supposed to retain?
  • What should they do after seeing this?

Using maps

Maps are representations of geographical data and enable easy comparisons between data in different regions.

Take a look at this interactive map. It presents the distribution of Giraffe species recorded by the Kenya Wildlife Service which was used in an article on Saving the Rothschild Giraffe.

Now think about these questions again:

  • Who is the audience?
  • What information are they supposed to retain?
  • What should they do after seeing this?

Using maps (2)

Here’s another example of using maps whereby satellite images are used in a photo slider to show the difference over time. In this visualisation, we see the change in landcover and development over 11 years from 2007 to 2018.

Again, think about these questions:

  • Who is the audience?
  • What information are they supposed to retain?
  • What should they do after seeing this?

Combining maps and charts

Often, the objective of data stories is to explain the different factors affecting an issue. This lends itself well to explaining an issue in a series of simple charts that add complexity to the audiences’ understanding of the topic.

This could include a variety of bar, line, and pie charts or maps that each add a layer of meaning to the topic.

Take a look at this visualisation, and note how different formats have been used to highlight the relevant aspects of information. This visualisation was published by The Star in Kenya.

Again, think about these questions:

  • Who is the audience?
  • What information are they supposed to retain?
  • What should they do after seeing this?

Creating news apps

The most sophisticated form of data-driven journalism is the news app. This is commonly a microsite within a news website or a standalone mobile app which is given over to a single story with interactive elements.

Gender Gap Africa was created by Code for Africa, and designed to help users calculate the gender pay gap in African countries.

It creates maximum effect because it allows readers to input their pay and get a comparison with what the opposite sex earns. A very personal experience that further allows the user to compare their country’s pay gap against other African countries.

The app uses Estimated Earned Income data from the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2020, capturing the average gender gap across all sectors within a country.

Again, think about these questions:

  • Who is the audience?
  • What information are they supposed to retain?
  • What should they do after seeing this?

Test your knowledge

Sharing data visually