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How can data best be marshaled to motivate audiences to take action? Last month, Velir posed this question to roughly 40 organizations that it invited to a Data Roundtable in San Francisco. This was our second Data Roundtable geared toward the needs of the social sector. The first convening was at Velir’s headquarters in Boston last December, but we wanted to give an opportunity for West Coast-based foundations, government agencies, and university research centers to provide insights as well on the topic of transforming facts into measurable results. 

The one-day event, which took place at Kaiser Family Foundation’s new office, included a range of perspectives, from local organizations who work in the trenches with data to state-focused research centers to foundations whose work is global. And no matter the size of the organization or the scope of its work, it was clear that we all have wise input that can help us get better at moving the needle from data findings into impact.

The discussions followed an arc that paralleled the work to build a data visualization, from the initial stage of creating engaging data content to the all-important task at the end of measuring results. 

"On the content creation front, we discussed the value of social math in order to make large numbers comprehensible (e.g. there are more gun dealers than McDonalds), as well as the need to weave quotes, poignant photos and other story elements into data summaries, given that stories are more memorable to us cognitively than facts."

And Velir shared the lessons it learned from nearly two decades of data storytelling-related client work. For example, we’ve seen from our work with clients that, while you may have a lot to say regarding your data findings, it likely won’t pay to start with the full story. It’s best to break data content down into bite-sized pieces that are easier for the reader to absorb. While that may seem obvious to some, we’ve seen that organizations working for the public good often err on the side of presenting all the findings at once.

A number of organizations discussed their approach for threading case studies and policy summaries into data content in order to help people understand actions they can take, and we ended the Roundtable with a discussion on measuring impact - that is, how can you tell if your efforts to communicate data are working? Attendees noted a range of approaches for measuring consumption of data content, from the all-important “field” work of talking to end-users in order to obtain qualitative input to the value of using social media as a tool to get instant feedback. And Velir shared its step-by-step approach of working with social sector clients to devise a measurement strategy for web analytics. There was general agreement on the need to employ a range of approaches that can work in tandem to measure impact - that is, you can’t pick either web analytics or field work to get the full portrait of use and impact.

Based on post-event survey results, there was a clear hunger for organizations to share and learn more from each other, particularly via a series of webinars. So, if your organization is interested in joining this ongoing conversation about transforming data into last-mile impact:

sign up to be notified of upcoming webinars

We can let you know as we ramp up webinars on this topic in early 2019.

Attendees of Velir’s San Francisco Data Roundtable included individuals from the following organizations: 

  • Atlantic 57 
  • Beacon Labs
  • California Budget & Policy Center 
  • California Health Care Foundation 
  • California Healthy Places Index/the Public Health Alliance of Southern CA  
  • California Research Bureau
  • California Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development 
  • California Department of Public Health
  • ChangeLab Solutions 
  • CivicMakers
  • EthosLabs 
  • First 5 Association of California 
  • First 5 San Francisco
  • Gates Foundation
  • GMMB 
  • i.e.communications
  • Kaiser Family Foundation 
  • Kaiser Permanente, Southern California
  • LA Counts/California Community Foundation
  • Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health/ 
  • Mental Health Services Oversight & Accountability Commission of California
  • Napa County Health & Human Services Agency
  • National Association of Health Data Organizations
  • PolicyLink/National Equity Atlas Project 
  • Public Health Institute, Center for Health Leadership & Practice 
  • Public Policy Institute of California 
  • Riff City Strategies
  • SIMI Group 
  • Social Interest Solutions
  • Stanford Center for Clinical Excellence Research
  • Stanford Center for Population Health Sciences
  • Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality
  • Stanford University, University Communications
  • Stewards of Change 
  • The California Endowment
  • UC-Davis Center for Regional Change 
  • UCSF Family Health Outcomes Project 
  • Urban Strategies 
  • USC Children’s Data Network

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