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An introduction to Data Storytelling for Civic Impact

The growth of data in journalism, storytelling and civics has ignited a rise in the number of university courses, workshops and hackathons that aim to teach students, professionals or community members their way around data. With that growth came along a series of questions:

  • What are overarching educational approaches and concrete class activities that can build data science capacity in non-technical communications fields such as journalism, documentary film, arts, and civic media? How does storytelling fit into that?

  • What are the ethics and privacy concerns of storytelling with data? How do we introduce and surface ethical dilemmas around data-sets in a safe learning environment? What is the ethical role of the storyteller in relation to the media product/audience (objectivity? transparency? other?)

  • What do we mean by "civic impact"? What is the relationship between storytelling and social change? How do we measure impact?

  • How do we connect the historical contexts of storytelling and journalism?

It was those questions that brought together Dalia Othman (Berkman Center), Catherine D’Ignazio (Emerson College Dept of Journalism & Engagement Lab) and Rahul Bhargava (MIT’s Center for Civic Media) to organize the Data Storytelling for Civic Impact study group.  

The goal of this study group is to build a network of educators and practitioners that can develop shared educational approaches on issues surrounding BUILDING CAPACITY and data literacy, the ETHICS of data and the CIVIC IMPACT of data-driven storytelling and how to measure it.

For a period of four weeks, we brought together 15 practitioners from diverse backgrounds and fields such as education, government, and storytellers to talk about how we can teach data storytelling for civic impact.

The first session focused on group and topic introductions, a series of themes and questions emerged from the group that were integrated into the following three sessions.

The second, third and final sessions focused on capacity building, data ethics and impact respectively. Each session was divided between case study presentations followed by breakout groups.

Live notes were taken in each of these sessions and will be presented below for the public to have access to the engaging conversations in these sessions.


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