Storytelling With Data
Effective communication is crucial for effective leadership, which is particularly relevant today. Recent events illustrate countless examples of cases where the same data or set of events are covered by different media stations, and although the underlying facts are the same, different news outlets are able to portray a wide array of very contrasting interpretations of what actually happened. In some cases, this is done intentionally to encourage viewers to adopt a particular viewpoint, but in other cases this naturally occurs due to bias of the writers.
Most effective leaders are able to present facts in such a way to compel their audience to feel a certain way or believe a certain narrative, and a disconnect in understanding between the leader and their audience is often undesirable and avoided at all costs. Within engineering, it is often the case that this difference in understanding stems from a miscommunication of technical material to a nontechnical audience, which is something we need to be particularly cognizant of as engineering students hoping to make a positive impact in the world. As someone who is planning on pursuing a research- oriented career path, I believe that it’s far too common for researchers to be incredibly meticulous when it comes to carefully analyzing their data, but then not take the time to fully share the story of why their results matter in the greater context of the world, especially to those outside their field. As an example, there are lots of graphs that attempt to convince the general public that climate change is an issue, but many of them are displayed in a plain graph that doesn’t really communicate the severity of this issue, despite technically presenting the data. Although he presented the same data, cartoonist Randall Munroe is able to clearly communicate the fuller story through this comic (https://xkcd.com/1732/), which tells a story that many of the technical graphs widely circulated online miss.
Through this project, my primary goal is as follows: to learn and practice techniques to share compelling stories with data. To this end, I plan to start with textbook examples, then work my way into “real- world” examples using media I come across. I chose to go with a Miro board since it enables both asynchronous discussion through post- its and synchronous conversations over zoom. I anticipate that these discussions will be informative for everyone involved - after these discussions, I hope that my peers take away insights related to data communication that they incorporate into their future work, and I hope that these discussions help me to see which parts of my work were effective in communicating a story and which parts were confusing for my audience.