Data analysis isn’t just about assembling, ordering and interpreting data; it’s also about educating, simplifying, clarifying, and persuading.
In the hands of skilled analysts, data can make a powerful impression on its viewers. Data can change opinions. It can instil values and translate experiences. It can influence society and inform human behavior.
Data analysis and visualization isn’t only about reporting change; data can bring about change.
Using data to encourage change
‘Press Freedom is at risk in different countries and we need to act to prevent the situation from getting worse.’ Sounds plausible, but is there data to support this argument? And if the change is required, where do we start, which countries are most at risk?
Consider the following analysis and visualization by Marc Soares who investigated the press freedom score for ten different countries and provides commentary about each of them. He gives the audience context but also a clear visual of countries that are most at risk (the higher the score, the more limited press freedom is).
While the above visualization does not tell you what exactly needs to be done, when, and by whom, it’s persuasive, and paints a clear picture of the situation. Its modular structure makes comparison easy, and graphs are bolstered by additional background information.
While images like this may not directly bring about change, they’re a good starting point. Data visualization in itself usually isn’t the end goal – it’s about initiating discussions, debate and ‘next steps’.
When data gets personal
Data isn’t limited to businesses, KPIs and corporate decision-making processes. Data can be very personal.
There’s a lot of public data available for analysis that helps citizens become more aware of their choices, and the impact they have.
Climate change is the topic everyone is (and should be) talking about, using data enables analysts and advocates for change to make their cause visible, factual, and persuasive.
Food is something we take for granted, but the following visualization by Sarah Bartlett shows just how much less efficient the land use is on a ‘per gram of protein’ basis when comparing beef or mutton with many other food options, particularly grains and pulses.
The Impact of Dietary Choices on the EnvironmentSARAH BARTLETT
For some people, visualizations like this one are enough to start reconsidering the food choices they make. To start a conversation, you don’t need much more than a convincing and fact-based data story; some people in your audience are always going to be curious and will seek more information.
What follows next – and this is important – is that after the initial information being shared, you also have additional resources and insights available for those who need them to follow-through with the change they want to make.
Though it might be tempting, don’t provide an audience with the core facts, and nothing more. Introduce them to the wider topic. Tease the depth of that topic, and give them the incentive to explore the issue in more detail.
Let data be the change
Data and analytics have entered the non-profit sector in recent years, supported by corporate philanthropy projects which support the missions of these organizations through software grants, free training and consulting in many cases.
One organisation that stands out is ‘Operation Fistula’, a non-profit focused on maternal health. The mission of Operation Fistula is to end Obstetric Fistula for women everywhere by 2045.
Where does data come into the equation? The team at Operation Fistula recognized that funding wasn’t going to those who needed it and didn’t reach the surgeons doing the work. The two factors played a big role in the lack of treatment for disadvantaged women in developing countries.
Operation Fistula turned the traditional funding model on its head and developed a new approach: data was provided by surgeons as evidence of quality care in return for grants. This meant that money was given directly to the doctors doing the work.
Data is critical to the success of Operation Fistula, both in the long-term to accomplish their mission, as well as the short term to secure funding and allocate grants.
Data also provides the team with an opportunity to share insights about this debilitating injury through data visualizations, highlighting facts and increasing awareness.
Prevalence of Obstetric Fistula in 19 African CountriesOPERATION FISTULA
Using data to influence
Data analysis and visualization has the power to change the future and can influence the way we think and act as individuals, and sometimes, even as a society.
Whether you want to stimulate discussions, support your argument, or change the lives of thousands of people, data visualization can help you make a significant step forward.