How do we engage with data in a post-truth society?

In Data Stories we aim to explore how people engage with data, and work on solutions that help make data  more relevant, more interactive, and more easily shared.

In the post-truth society we live in, experts must find novel ways to bring hard, factual data to citizens. Data must entertain as well as inform, and excite as well as educate. It must be built with sharing through social channels in mind and become part of our everyday activities and interactions with others. Data Stories will look at novel frameworks and technologies for bringing data to people through art, games, and storytelling. It will examine the impact that varying levels of localisation, topicalisation, participation, and shareability have on the engagement of the general public with factual evidence. This can refer to different forms of digital content derived and repurposed from a variety of sources. We aim to deliver tools and guidance that community and civic groups need to achieve broader participation and support for their initiatives at local and national level, and empower artists, designers, statisticians, analysts, and journalists to communicate with data in inspiring, informative ways.

Our research hypotheses are:

  1. People engage more with data that is made relevant to them by localisation (data related to a specific geographic or geopolitical area of interest) and topicalisation (data about a particular entity, theme, or event).
  2. People engage more with data and understand it better when said data is provided through interactive and participatory methods that help build a coherent narrative.
  3. Data is more likely to be shared, and therefore reach more people, if shareability is built into its presentation.

We will test these hypotheses and propose a data experience framework supported by models, algorithms, and guidelines that help individuals and groups in creating bespoke, participatory content (for example, art, games, and stories, from data). The framework design will be informed by practice-led research in three main areas:

  • finding and enriching data
  • generating content
  • sharing and engaging with content

It will draw upon methods from several disciplines: data and content management; machine learning; human data interaction; game design and gamification; crowdsourcing; online communities; social and political sciences; creative writing; visual arts and more.

The research will be prototypically showcased in four contexts: (i) within the Data as Culture programme at the ODI, working together with artists, designers, and open data activists; (ii) as part of the Datapolis project run by the ODI, which looks at the use of game interfaces to demystify data, with the support of game designers and local communities; (iii) in a fact-checking & journalism showcase together with the BBC, Full Fact, and the Parliament Digital Service; and (iv) via datathons and our own Data Stories challenge, run by WSI and the ODI, alongside initiatives such as Bath:Hacked and ODCamp UK, which will build community-relevant data narratives from open data enriched with other media, using creative writing techniques.