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Andy Krackov: Using kidsdata for storytelling

They say every picture tells a story. At the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health, we believe that every data point has the potential to tell a story. That’s why we operate our flagship website, consolidates hundreds of indicators at the state, county, city, and school district level that help paint of picture of how children in California are faring. Data are drawn from the California Department of Education, the Census Bureau, the California Healthy Kids Survey, and dozens of other sources - including, of course, the California Health Interview Survey. The stories these data tell can be used to help bring attention to key children’s issues, and to support funding requests.

At the foundation, we’ve developed a number of approaches – mostly through trial and error – for using data for storytelling. Here are some relatively low-cost tactics that have proven particularly effective for us.

Tell a Story Yourself; Create a Data Slideshow. For a number of recent announcements about updated data on, we’ve build simple data slideshows to summarize how children are faring for a particular topic, such as weight or child welfare. We like to make these slideshows visually compelling by showing data in multiple views – trend and pie graphs, maps, etc. – and we design them as high level, compact summaries of an issue.

Since we’ve begun to highlight these data slideshows in e-mail announcements about recently updated data, they’ve become the most clicked-on links. It’s not unusual for us to hear about people making use of these slideshows in their own work, such as an instructor who wanted to download the weight slideshow for use in an online class for California teachers.

Localize the Data. While it’s not always easy to do, it pays to invest time to provide, or just link to, local data when you can. Websites like AskCHIS or can help you accomplish this. We’ve found, for example, that our e-mails are more viral when we include direct links to data by school district. Similarly, when we meet with staff for elected officials, we prepare some graphs to show with data for their region.

Through, you can drill down to find the data you need at the specificity you desire, and once you do, you can download your graphs and tables for use in Word or PowerPoint, or even embed charts and maps into your own website or blog.

Treat Data Storytelling as a Campaign, not a One-Time Mention. If you’re getting ready to communicate data from a study you’re releasing, or if you want to use data to support an advocacy position your organization is taking, think about how you can communicate these data in a sustained way, given that some key constituents may not necessarily pay attention at a particular moment. The story you’re telling with the data doesn’t need to be told all at once; sometimes installments can work well. With kidsdata, for example, we offer a fact of the day through Twitter, and journalists/policymakers sometimes retweet these facts to their audiences.

Know of other strategies? We encourage you to add them to this list.


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