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A few months ago, I had a unique opportunity to talk with an array of end users of health data for a few client projects. I connected with city and county-level individuals working on the front lines of public health in California. They are leveraging data to achieve change on a particular issue (violence prevention, opioid misuse, reducing heart disease) by addressing its root causes. I also talked with a state-level policy office for a national association to hear how they need to marshal data to convince elected officials. As a part of this effort, I then had a conversation with someone from the national office who works closely with staff on Capitol Hill; their aim is to harness data to help advocate for US policy change. And finally, I talked with ministries of health in developing countries – Bangladesh and Malaysia – to understand how they use data about primary health care, often in low (or no) bandwidth environments. 

Four separate use cases, from the very local to the international, so you might think there are more differences than similarities. Yet, the overriding message that I heard from all of them is the need for data to be served with a healthy dose of usefulness to the audiences that are consuming the data - that is, to focus on practicality in data display and dissemination in order to help achieve the desired social change. 

While this aim for usefulness may not be a novel finding, I think it’s a goal that those of us working in social sector data visualization sometimes overlook. These days, there’s a focus on making data visualizations both works of art and highly interactive, and that’s a positive development. 

"Data visualizations that are compelling draw the reader in and rise above the digital chatter that permeates our lives."

However, it is important to remember that as we embrace digital in data viz, we can add even more value by addressing the additional ways, such as face-to-face interactions, in which some end users need data to confront everyday challenges. 

Whenever I talk with clients working on the front lines of data, they focus on practical ways they want to marshal facts – presentations they’re delivering to the local business community at the Rotary Club; a one-on-one meeting with an elected official; a fact sheet they want to hand out to community members at health fairs or local town halls.

When resources are at the ground level like that, organizations have the opportunity to deliver data in those face-to-face settings, in addition to priming their audiences with beautiful displays on social channels and online media. By keeping in mind, the end results they’re after, different methods to present the data can be pursued, like having printable / shareable one-page fact sheets that, following a meeting, someone can take back to their office. One example of this are the dynamically generated fact sheets that Velir worked on with the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health. Or maybe it’s presenting poster displays of maps and graphs at a community gathering where ideas can be gathered and buy-in from key stakeholders can be generated. Perhaps it’s walking an influential policymaker through some important findings on a tablet – during an in-person meeting – to help persuade him/her to consider a policy action. Or it could be a cogent follow-up summary for a journalist on a tight deadline who needs some facts and graphs for an article he/she is preparing. 

These, at least, are the kinds of use cases that I’m hearing about these days. It’s a pragmatic approach to data visualization, one that recognizes the intrinsic value of a beautiful and engaging display that can grab a reader’s attention, but also encompasses a broader concept of interactivity of in-person exchanges during one-on-one meetings or community presentations. 

For an increasing number of clients these days, we’re at work at Velir on solving these kinds of practical challenges. So, we’re keenly interested in partnering with organizations to address this need to make data displays practical, beautiful, and interactive for digital and in-person display. We believe that it is the synergy of all of these aspects that can ultimately help our clients achieve impact from data storytelling

If you have problems you want to puzzle through, we’d be happy to listen to your challenges and work together to identify potential solutions. We’d love to help you achieve the impact you desire by enabling you to reach your target audiences with the data they need, on the mediums they have access to, in order to persuade them to take action. Join the discussion via the comments below or send me a note at [email protected]


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