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Occupy Leap Day

29 Feb

Here’s a post that I wrote for my personal blog 4 years ago – the last time we celebrated a Leap Day. I’m not able to occupy my Leap Day in such a way this year, but I hope some of you are. Here’s to doing something creative on your extra day!

Happy Leap Year!

 

blahg, blahg, blahg...

Every four years we’re given a present, an extra 24 hours that we bundle up into one day that we call “Leap Day”. Where does this time come from? Well, astronomically speaking, it takes the earth approximately 365 days and 6 hours to travel around the sun. Add up those 6 hours for 4 years and you’ve got 24 (thank you Ms. Summers for all of those multiplication flashcard drills in 4th grade). To keep our old calendars in line, we add that extra day in during that 4th year and call it “Leap Year”.

It dawned on me this morning that if there is one day that should really be given to people as a bonus day, a day to do whatever you wish, a holiday if you will, it is Leap Day. It only seems fitting as (1) we get by just fine without it 3 out…

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A Picture CAN Tell a Dozen Tables’ Worth of Data

10 Dec

[The following was originally written for the UMCCTS December Newsletter.]

When it comes to summarizing and sharing information with an audience, one important thing to remember is the audience itself. It’s a pretty simple concept, yet too often forgotten or dismissed when we’re preparing a talk, an article, a policy statement, patient education materials, and the myriad of other containers into which we fit our message.

Most recently, I’ve been working to pull together sections for the Final Progress Report for our initial Clinical and Translational Science Award. This is not my first time writing such a report and as has been the case in the past, we follow a template that goes something like:

Overall Objectives and Goals > Aims > Accomplishments Associated with Each Aim > Milestones Reached for the Same > Challenges Faced > Future Plans

These reports are lengthy and dry, filled with lots of bullet points and tables and numbers. I’m not privy to how these reports are read at NIH, but I imagine that the format fits how they are reviewed and makes it easier for funders to see a bigger picture across similar awards. Funders and reviewers are the audience, thus we present our information to them in the way they’re accustomed – the way that they understand.

Taking a break from all of the writing, I decided to turn one of the bigger tables of information I’ve received into something for a different audience. Sarah Rulnick, MPH, Project Manager for the Conquering Diseases Project, recently compiled some information regarding the work of the Biorepository and Volunteer Database. These are both integral pieces in the UMCCTS efforts to support clinical trials. I read through the narrative portions of Sarah’s summary and took in the full-page table giving yearly counts of things such as the number of patients consented for the biorepository, MiCARD searches performed, outreach events organized, and the like.

I started to think about a way that I could summarize this information for both people who have already enrolled in the Volunteer Database and those who might potentially do so, if they only understood a bit more about the importance of participation. It’s an audience that Sarah and her colleagues are charged to reach. I pulled out the data points that I thought best addressed this goal. I also brainstormed what came to my mind when I thought about conquering something. What I ultimately came up with is this:

Conquering Diseases

Coincidentally, right in the middle of writing this newsletter piece, I watched a 20-minute “Coffee Break” webinar from the American Evaluation Association. I hadn’t connected the webinar with this piece, but they certainly appear to be related. The webinar was entitled, “How to Develop Visual Summaries and Inforgraphics from Your Evaluation Findings,” and presented by Elissa Schloesser, a graphic designer and visual communicator based in Minneapolis. She, too, talked about knowing your audience and she offered an excellent example of how she prepared two very different materials for two groups; both from the same report. I felt I was on track with my message here.

Elissa has some other nice examples on her My Visual Voice. If you’re thinking of communicating some of your work visually, they might inspire you.

Map it Out

1 Dec

I’m taking Alberto Cairo‘s 6-week online course, Introduction to Infographics and Data Visualization, taught through the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas at the University of Texas at Austin. Just like every other MOOC that I’ve taken over the past few years, I can never keep up with the assignments and get in on the discussions as I wish, but I still appreciate all of the resources and lectures and insight that I get from them.

With info-doodling on my mind, I’ve been putting together a few new ones this week. (It’s a nice diversion from writing a lengthy, very dry final progress report for NIH.) Some are in draft form and I’m awaiting feedback from folks on their content, but here’s a quick and fun one that I put together during lunch. I was remembering all of the places that I’ve been over the past 10+ years related to my work as a medical librarian / informationist / evaluator. It’s been a good gig!

What do you think?

Travel Map

A Little of This, A Little of That

30 Oct

I’ve been out and about and busy juggling many things this month – library conferences, speaking engagements, and day-to-day work. All of it finds me neglecting my poor blog. Let’s see if I can’t remedy that a bit today. Continuing with the theme I began with my last post, here are some great finds that I’ve come across over the past weeks:

Rob Peterson of Dun and Bradstreet offered a nice blog post last month, highlighting 14 Data Visualization Tools to Tell Better Stories with Numbers. It provides a concise overview of which type of visualization is best for the job, along with links to online tools for each. Remember, if you only have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Keep more than one tool in your toolbox.

I’ve printed off the instructions for How to Make a Timeline from a Google Spreadsheet. They’ve been sitting on my desk for weeks, but I know I’ll find the time(line) to give it a try. Timelines can be such a wonderful way to tell a story.

Print Friendly was recommended to me via some blog and/or list that I follow. I’ve discovered that I use it so very often since. It’s terrific for printing out webpages without all of the ads and photos and whatnot. If you must print, it offers a greener way of doing so.

Thanks to the great folks at both UMass Amherst and UConn, plus the Boston Library Consortium, I was finally able to attend a hands-on workshop on Tableau. I tried unsuccessfully to teach myself how to use it for awhile. (This is due more to my lack of time and focus than on any of Tableau’s tutorials and help guides.) I knew that I’d like it, if I got around to using it. And yesterday, I published my first test visualizations. Woot!!

The American Society of Cell Biology recently shared an article about NIH’s new tool to calculate Relative Citation Ratio. iCite allows users to compare citations, offering an alternative (read, better) to the standard journal impact factor. It’s nice to see NIH supporting the idea that the measure(s) of research impact are broader than we’ve long accepted.

I’m a big fan of Shaun Usher and his projects, “Lists of Note,” “Letters of Note,” and “LetterHeady.” While perusing his site recently, I came across the collection of videos called, “Letters Live.” The art of letter writing is sadly fading, but its beauty thankfully revisited through this wonderful collection of actors reading the correspondence of the famous and infamous. Enjoy!

One of the library conferences that I attended this month was the annual meeting of the North Atlantic Health Sciences Libraries (NAHSL). I was on the planning committee for the conference and one thing that I decided, on a whim, to do was create NAHSL BINGO, a game that attendees could play throughout the meeting. It was filled with typical sightings and/or sayings one sees/hears during these events (knitters? cell phones going off? someone complaining about the room’s temperature?). To create the cards, I Googled “bingo card generator” and found a great one here. Bookmark it for fun and games emergencies.

At that same meeting, perhaps one of the biggest audience gasps came when the librarians from Yale University’s medical library unveiled their brand spanking new tool to help the poor soul tackling systematic reviews … the Yale MeSH Analyzer. Geeky librarian souls, rejoice in its awesomeness.

My Desk

Lastly, this week’s What’s On My Desk Right Now? Nathan Yau’s, Data Points; Charles Wheelan’s, Naked Statistics; Albert Cairo’s, The Functional Art; Dona Wong’s, The Wall Street Journal Guide to Information Graphics; and the hot-off-the-press The Very Best American Infographics of 2015, edited by Gareth Cook. Oh, and a drawing of a bunny that I doodled while on a lengthy conference call a few weeks back. Sense a theme?

Until next time… doodle on!

Learn Something New Every Day

27 Aug

My spouse recently got a call from a couple of faculty members in the computer science department at the college where she teaches. Lynn teaches in the art department; graphic design, motion design, typography, and the like. The computer science guys wanted to explore the possibility of her teaching a course in data visualization. Knowing that I have both an interest in the topic, plus the need to fumble through learning it (and using the new-found skills) for my job as an evaluator, she asked me what I thought about the opportunity.

Lynn knows enough about data visualization to know there’s a computer programming aspect to it. The computer science guys know enough to know there’s a design element to it. They all know that there’s math involved, specifically statistical analysis. I also suggested that it involves writing and/or journalism. She was hesitant – and rightly so – to jump on board without thinking and talking it through, because what she is an expert in is only one area of a multi-disciplinary field.

“It’s team science,” my boss, Nate, said when I shared the story with him. Exactly. And in many ways it’s an example of how the ways we traditionally teach, research, and work need to be re-examined and re-worked.

Too often, I find, we search for collaborators within our own circles of expertise. Librarians collaborate with other librarians. They might be from different types of libraries or different library departments, but often we’re all librarians. Researchers collaborate with other researchers. Scientists with other scientists. In some ways, it can be argued, this is team science (or team-based work), but it falls short of the ideal.

At it’s best, team science brings together experts from across different disciplines to work on problems that simply cannot be tackled by any one group. Think about a health problem like obesity. It’s huge and as such, touches upon so many different aspects of life. Addressing it requires everyone from geneticists to behavioral psychologists to nutritionists to exercise physiologists to public policy makers to urban planners to educators to medical doctors to parents to science writers to … it’s probably easier to identify the experts not needed than those who are. The point being that some of the most successful efforts at addressing obesity are those that bring as many of these fields of expertise together, to work together towards a solution. (The UMass Worcester Prevention Research Center is an example, close to home for me.)

But back to data visualization, what I’ve found is that those who do it best are either freakingly gifted (there’s always an Edward Tufte in any area) or they’re smart enough – and talented enough – to assemble good teams for the work. As I’m seeking to discover the best resources to learn and practice the skills for this job, I’m continually reminded to look across lots of different disciplines. I look to evaluators (Stephanie Green and Chris Lysy), graphic designers (Nigel Holmes), business intelligence consultants (Stephen Few), journalists and journalism professors (David McCandless and Alberto Cairo, respectively), artists (Manuel Lima), statisticians (Nathan Yau), doctors (Hans Rosling), and the people in my very own Quantitative Health Sciences Department. I read things by people who are good presenters, experts in visual communication, and those skilled in improvisation. In other words, while I’m limited in resources to actually form a real team of experts to do data visualization for the UMCCTS, I’ve learned enough to seek them out from across lots of corners so that I can do a better job. (I’m also lucky enough to be working in an environment where people don’t mind me trying things out on them. It’s a benefit of being in academia.)

Thanks to Chris Lysy’s (DiY Data Design) weekly creative challenge, this week I practiced using design icon arrays to report on the findings of a course evaluation with a small (n=15) class size. We get so hung up on “big data” that it’s easy to forget the real challenges of working with and presenting the results from small data sets. I really enjoyed taking this challenge and putting it to use. Here are a couple of examples. For the sake of privacy, I’ve redacted the questions being reported.

Time

Sample Arrays

Now, here’s one lesson that I learned for the next time that I use this visualization device. I need to make them like this:

better copy

This example allows me to better show that each response is represented by a single box, thus 11 people answered “Yes” and 4 answered “Somewhat.” Live and learn. Every day.

Next Tuesday, I’m taking a workshop on creating podcasts. It’s something that I’ve wanted to try and I found a 2-hour, evening class in Boston. Stay tuned to see what that new learning might bring. 

Fancy Doodles

23 Jul

One of my favorite parts of my still relatively new job as an evaluator is being able to tell the stories of our programs not only in words, but also in pictures. Regular readers of my blog know how much I enjoy and value sketching, doodling, and drawing as part of my work process, and I’ve enjoyed sharing my sketchnotes over the past few years here on my blog, but my new role allows me to create infograms for each newsletter produced by the UMass Center for Clinical and Translational Science. I thought I’d share some here.

When I had to report on the current work of our funded clinical scholars, I decided to highlight how a small group of people (6) can lead to much larger groups and connections and ultimately, outputs such as subsequent funding and peer-reviewed papers. Turning those facts into pictures, I came up with this:

Slide1

For those curious, I used PowerPoint to draw this graphic. The dollar signs and presentation screens are clip art, but the rest I was able to draw by hand. You can draw pretty much anything with triangles and rectangles and circles.:)

Next, I had to report on the progress of another group of funded researchers – our Pilot Project Program Awardees. I took the information given to me via lengthy written reports and turned it into this graphic to show the importance and value of Team Science. For this one, I tested out the infographic site, Easel.ly. It allows you to do many things via their free version.

PPPSummaryUpdateSpring2015

Most recently, the Principal Investigator for our Center wanted to know about the funding of these Pilot Projects since we began doing so, back in 2007. What could we say about this program, since we initiated it? I decided one thing worth evaluating was our return on investment. Since 2007, the UMCCTS has awarded around $5 million to fund research that promotes collaboration between basic science and clinical researchers, provides seed funding for ideas to grow, and advances translational science. What’s been the return on that investment? Turning back to PowerPoint, I created this graphic:

PPP Investment

It’s a challenge to collect and analyze the data behind these images, but in many ways the bigger challenge is to figure out which story is the one to tell and how best to tell it. It’s a skill of an accomplished evaluator, something that I can’t really call myself only 8 months into the job, but I’m happy to report that it’s both interesting and rewarding to work towards such a goal.

Summer Reading Time

1 Jul

My favorite advice columnist, Amy Dickinson, recently posted the question on her Facebook page, “Do you have a favorite summer read? Want to recommend one?” But of course I do! This librarian by any other name can always offer up advice on a good book or two. Here are a few on my summer reading list:

Sue_Grafton_-_W_Is_For_Wasted

I actually just finished “W” yesterday. I have read Sue Grafton’s, Kinsey Millhone’s alphabet series from A to W, and will surely make it to Z (and then have a good, long cry once I finish it and think about the series ending). I love these books – the characters, the settings, the mysteries. Perhaps what I like most about them, though, is that Kinsey came to life in “A is for Alibi,” all the way back in 1982. While we’ve aged to 2015, Grafton chose to let Kinsey age at the speed of the stories. In other words, Kinsey is still in the 80s, still doing private detective work using index cards, a typewriter, and pay phones – AND the occasional microfilm/microfiche and reference librarian. I love it! “X” is coming out in August. My summer reading will be bookended by Kinsey, thanks to Sue Grafton!

penguinAlong with a good murder mystery, I’ve also been reading Yochai Benkler’s, The Penguin and the Leviathan. This title was referenced in an article that I was reading about team science and Clinical Translational Science Centers. It’s thesis, that cooperation between competing parties leads to better results than self-interest, intrigued me and just a few chapters into it, my interest has been met. I’m enjoying it.

proust-195x300

I also recently came across a reference to Maryanne Wolf’s, Proust and the Squid. Anyone who’s read my blog and the books that I mention on it knows of my fascination with neuroscience, the effects of today’s technology and media on our brains, and the habit of reading. How could I not read this? It’s up next, after I finish the penguin tale.

rebanksI began James Rebanks’ memoir, The Shepherd’s Life, just last night. I’ll be finished with it before the weekend. It is beautiful! Beautiful writing, beautiful landscape, beautiful living. A bonus, if you enjoy his tales of life with the sheep, you can follow Rebanks on Twitter, @herdyshepherd1.

creativity-challenge

I just came across Tanner Christensen’s, The Creativity Challenge, this morning. I can’t resist books like this, i.e. ones that offer up new information about creativity along with a daily activity to spur on my personal quest to be more creative. No doubt, this book will be in my possession within days.

Jacket Board - Analytics Press

Finally, the 2nd edition of Stephen Few’s, Show Me the Numbers has lived on my work desk since June. It’s a summer companion. Few is the founder of Perceptual Edge, a consulting firm dedicated to information design, knowledge management, and visual communication. He has authored seminal papers and books on the subjects, this particular book being among them. It’s a terrific reference for me and the work that I do, and I imagine of interest and help to more than a few of my readers, too.

That’s it for my reading this summer. What are you picking up? Feel free to share in the comments section.

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