Tag Archives: Data Storytelling

Show Me A Story

27 Oct

(The following is from a spotlight talk that I gave at the annual meeting of the North Atlantic Health Sciences Libraries chapter of the Medical Library Association in New Haven, CT, October 25, 2016.)

nahsl_viz_01

nahsl_viz_02I was listening to economist and presentation expert, Jonathan Schwabish’s, PolicyViz Podcast last week. It was an episode from about a month ago; an interview with Andy Kirk, a data visualization specialist and the person behind the terrific website, Visualising Data. Andy is also the author of the new book, Visualizing Data: A Handbook for Data Driven Design, a must-have reference text for anyone seeking to produce effective visualizations. When asked why he wrote the book and the essence behind it, he replied,

Visualization is a game of decisions and to make good decisions you need to be aware of all of the options that you’ve got and then be aware of the influencing factors that shape what choices you can make. What skills have you got? How does that restrict or open up opportunities around chart types or interactivity? What are the formats that you happen to aspire towards and what does that impact in terms of the choices that you have to make for a given context?

I so appreciated this statement for a couple of reasons. First, looking at the act of creating visualizations as a decision-making process gets to the heart of why and how visuals either work or they don’t. In other words, good decision-making is key to good visuals, regardless of all the know-how one might have in terms of tools and/or design. You need to start and end with good decisions. Secondly, you need to have some skills and the more you develop your skills, the greater number of choices you’ll have available to you in the decision-making process. “Aspire.” It’s a grand word.

nahsl_viz_03My story of creating visuals started on a Friday afternoon when I was staring at a spreadsheet/report that I’m frequently asked for in my work. It’s a tracking form of our clinical research scholars, telling the number of grants they’ve applied for, the number and percentage of said applications are funded, the amount of money associated with each, the number of publications they’ve written, and other such metrics that tell the UMCCTS their return on investment, if you will, for these researchers. 

nahsl_viz_04As I was looking at it – and as it was a Friday afternoon and I was needing something fun to do to finish my work week – I wondered if I could draw a picture that told the same story that the numbers and information in this spreadsheet told. I like to draw, so I thought I’d give it a go. I wasn’t sure that my bosses would like it, but I figured it didn’t hurt to try.

So I did just that and ended up with this:nahsl_viz_05Surprisingly, my bosses loved it! And I was quickly asked to make some more, so I did. 

nahsl_viz_06I made one to show how all five UMass campuses are involved with the UMCCTS. I made one highlighting the team science and/or collaborative nature of our sponsored programs. I made one showing the outcomes of our pilot awards, one illustrating the work of the Center for Microbiome Research, and one highlighting the peaks achieved by our Conquering Diseases Program. I covered my office door with them, put them in our monthly newsletter, and eventually we made a page on our Center’s website so that they live online.

nahsl_viz_07Next, we had our annual research retreat and when it came time for me to produce and give a report on the evaluations from the day, I decided to expand my chart-making skills, and learned how to make stacked horizontal bar charts to present the information more clearly and concisely. (Thank you, Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic.)

nahsl_viz_08Of course, the more charts I made, the more folks came to me with requests to make more. Each was an opportunity to learn something new, to try something different, to make choices and decisions – some good, some bad, some better. I made slides for a presentation that our Quality Assurance leader was giving to a group of clinical research administrators. 

nahsl_viz_09I made a tree map for the director of our Institutional Review Board. When I showed it to her she asked, “Where’s the pie?” So I made her a pie and she said, “You know, I like the tree better.” Yay! So did I.

nahsl_viz_10I also made her a 100% stacked bar chart to show average IRB approval times and in doing so, also finally made a color template of our UMCCTS colors. (Thank you, Stephanie Evergreen.)

 

nahsl_viz_11And then, taking Andy’s words to heart (before I even knew them) I read and learned and practiced and expanded my skill set, learning dot plots, split bar graphs, lollipop graphs, embedding labels, and creating both heat maps and bar graphs in R. (Thank you, Nathan Yau.) It’s fun and it’s appreciated and it’s become a big part of my job now.

nahsl_viz_12And so when people continue to ask me why I’m no longer a librarian or what an evaluator does, I reply, that I AM a librarian. I’m a librarian who does evaluation and now that I’ve added the drawing pictures aspect to my toolkit, my wife calls me an INFORMATION ARTIST! It’s the best job title that I’ve ever had, by far. 

What I hope everyone takes away from this talk – or this post – is that when it comes to being an information professional, the sky is the limit for all that you can do. Find what you like, find what you do well, find what you want to do, learn what you want to learn, and grow with the profession. It makes for a great career.

And Then This…

20 Apr

ER_QuoteAfter writing my last post, Iterations on a Profession, a couple of weeks ago, I was prompted to pick up my copy of Eleanor Roosevelt’s book, You Learn by Living, and re-read the first chapter entitled, “Learning to Learn.” It’s a favorite, filled with great words of wisdom and reminders that life isn’t much of anything, once we stop learning. There are many quotable passages, but I chose the above to share here. As you read it, remember this … it was written in 1960. Fifty years ago, “our world was startlingly new.” And surely 50 years before that and 50 years before that and on and on for as long as humans have been riding on the planet. I get hung up too often on how different everything is today, how much change I’ve experienced in my lifetime and in my profession – all in the same timeframe since Mrs. Roosevelt wrote these words. Adapting to change is nothing new. 

The other line from that chapter that lifted my spirits, “if you are interested, you never have to look for new interests. They come to you.” Yes. Thank you for reminding me that it’s a gift to be interested, Mrs. Roosevelt.

Now then, while I was brooding over things, my bookmark folder got filled again. Time to share some with you.

Conference time is upon us and that means many are busy making posters to show off their projects, work, ideas, etc. Better Posters is a great resource to help you make a not-so-awful-and-all-too-common academic poster. Blog posts are added frequently and humor is never in short supply.

Remember Bridget Jones, the character portrayed wonderfully by Renee Zellweger in the movies of the same name?  Well, you may or may not know that her character came to be from a regular column authored by Helen Fielding for the British newspaper, the Independent, in the 1990s. The Independent recently ceased publication of its print paper, becoming a digital-only media outlet. Fielding was interviewed on NPR’s Morning Edition late last month. She speaks of many things, but one of particular interest to my readers might be her thoughts on what’s lost in the shift from print to digital. Anything? You’ll have to listen to find out.

Several items related to data (because, you know, it’s a lot of what I do):

  • A real-life demonstration of the use of big data can have dramatic effects on the child welfare system – Can Big Data Save These Children, from PBS NewsHour.
  • The National Center for Health Statistics has a nice collection of data visualizations that I’d never come across before. Bookmarked. 
  • Gravy Anecdote is the blog/website of Andy Cotgreave, a Technical Evangelist for Tableau. I watched a very informative webinar that he did entitled, How Data Storytelling Can Enhance the Way You Communicate, one in the series produced by BrightTALK. I’ve watched several of their webinars and found many to be quite good. Note, there’s an audio glitch a few minutes in to Andy’s talk. Just wait through it. It doesn’t last long. (Live and learn.) From this talk, I discovered Periscopic, a data visualization studio on the West Coast (USA) doing some amazing work. You can browse through some of their portfolio. I also found Ben Jones’ blog, DataRemixed. Ben also works for Tableau. It’s going to take me awhile to get through all of the things here.
  • Why all of the Tableau focus? One reason is because last week I was trying to teach myself how to use it to create a social network visualization. I found some help from the blog post, In Chaos, Clarity: Social Network Diagrams in Tableau. I remain irked that NodeXL is a Windows-only add-on for Excel (Mac user that I am), but there are workarounds. Believe me.

Just a few more and these are mostly for fun.

Kurt Vonnegut diagrams The Shape of Stories in this YouTube video. I love one viewer’s comment, “It’s like a cross between a college lecture and a stand-up comedy routine!” It’s pretty funny AND informative. 

If you need a story about how to turn a bad situation into something good, read My Wife Left Me with Nothing but a Dog, So I Started this Fun Photo Series. Amazing! I love that dog!

Photos of the archives of the Smithsonian Natural History Museum made the social media rounds a few weeks back. In case you missed it, you can catch up here. I would love a tour some day.

And finally, the one thing that has preoccupied me for more hours than I dare say over the past month… the DC Eagle Cam. Mr. President and the First Lady had a pair of eaglets in March and I have been FASCINATED watching them grow. And I’m not alone. They’ve gotten press on both National Public Radio and the Washington Post. They reside in the Azalea Collection at the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington, DC. Watch online. You can’t get close to them in person.

And with that … Happy Spring!!