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Henrietta Curzon

Information as experience: reflections on the Encode 2019 data vis conference

Data visualisation (‘data vis’) involves producing images that help people to interpret what data means, and comprehend what actions they can take in response. That makes it enormously powerful, and hugely interesting.

Helping people to understand, connect with, and be motivated by information is a key component of EDGEWORK – IMPOWER’s approach to achieving sustainable change within complex systems – whether that involves understanding the prevalence of avoidable demand, relating to people’s perceptions of system relationships, or being able to respond to the trajectories of Primed Metrics.

This is one of the reasons why the IMPOWER INDEX has become a great tool for councils to understand (and if necessary, act on) the outcomes they are achieving per pound spent; a visual representation of performance is much more immediate than a written report.

Because of this relevance to our work, I recently attended Encode, a specialist data vis conference. The packed agenda covered education, journalism, health and art. Although these disciplines are clearly varied, some key themes emerged over the two days. One of the most fascinating, from my perspective, was the challenge of turning information into an experience.

According to Dale’s Cone of Experience, people retain more information by what they do, as opposed to what they have heard, read or observed. When information is received passively (and indirectly) through listening or reading, retention is poor – people tend to remember just 10% of the information they have read and 20% of what they have heard. Similarly, when people actively participate in a workshop they tend to retain 70% of what they say or write, but if someone has a real hands-on experience (known as action learning) they usually remember about 90% of what they did.

Three different ways of turning information into an experience were explored during the conference:

  1. Actively gathering data. This creates greater investment in the project, higher levels of ownership of the data and a better understanding of the story behind it. Examples include the concept of ‘data walking’ (exploring an area to physically collect data) and a project highlighted by Dataveyes where citizens collected noise pollution data using their mobile phones.
  2. Making it personal. People respond better if there is a way for them to connect personally to the data. A great example of this was shared by Stefanie Posavec and Miriam Quick, who used people’s answers to a personality questionnaire to create personalised badges for National Maritime Museum visitors, connecting them more closely to the wall of ships badges that are on display.
  3. Participatory data physicalisation. When viewers actively contribute to a shared experience, they become participants. A great way of doing this is by asking people to guess the answer to things you want them to know about, rather than providing them with the information upfront. In doing so, you gain a picture of perception, can challenge people’s views and encourage them to want to know the answer. As Matteo Moretti from Unibz explained, “The act of guessing, in fact, helps the assimilation of content by arousing curiosity around the right answer”. His project on raising cancer-prevention awareness achieved this by inviting passers-by to answer simple questions by tucking wire wool into a series of rings….so don’t be surprised if you see a pegboard and wire wool emerge at the next IMPOWER workshop you attend!

For more information on how IMPOWER can use data to help councils achieve better outcomes for less, get in touch.

 

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