Adventures of a Frequent Flyer – Impact

Trucking bees all over the country is a powerful image. Most people don’t realize what happens behind the scenes to produce the food they eat every day. During this class we have enjoyed exploring datasets and finding creative ways to turn csv’s into narratives that stick in people’s heads. We were drawn to study bees because of the strong narrative that has been in press in recent years that has made many people vaguely aware of the importance of bees in agriculture. We used the prior press coverage as our hook to draw in people to learn more specifics about how bees travel across the country every year to pollinate everyone’s favorite fruits.

There are significant network effects in fruit production because bee colonies need to remain healthy throughout their interstate journey. Dangers in one state directly influence crop yields in others, with strong effects cascading across the country from Florida to South Dakota. Massachusetts is one of many stops that bees make, so local citizens should recognize their important role in protecting bees locally to facilitate nationwide fruit production. Despite proposed legislation to protect pollinators, few people are aware of the gravity of the issue. In the previous sketches in the course, our group enjoyed creating interactive games because of how fun and memorable they can be. Combining these themes, we created Adventures of a Frequent Flyer to tell the story of migratory bees and rally support for societally beneficial legislation to protect pollinators both locally and nationally.

Our audience is visitors of a famers’ market. These are people who value fresh fruits and are interested to engage with the people who produce them. People are often less rushed in a farmers’ market than a supermarket, making them more likely to wander around and more receptive to learn about new things. While testing our prototype to the desired audience, we noticed a large number of people walking around the booths. We brought a large whiteboard to the market with a collection of fruit stickers taped on in a grid-like pattern, brightly decorated to attract attention. Visitors were first introduced to the context of the game. We explained how commercial beekeepers manage their bees and their importance to fruit production. We prompted the user to choose a favorite fruit, engaging them by personalizing the discussion. Users then traced a typical path that bees would be traveling to pollenate a series of crops, ultimately reaching their destination where their favorite fruit is grown. In addition to highlighting the often-complicated paths bees are traveling, along the way we highlighted the level of regulatory protection each state has related to protecting pollinators.

We found that the game caused users to empathize with bee keepers and personify the bees. One person exclaimed, “if I was a beekeeper, I would keep my colony safe!” After speaking with our group and completing the activity, 100% of the users we surveyed reported that they had learned something new about the issue and were amenable to support bee protection laws in the future. Our goal was to inform and empower people to make changes in their living and voting habits to support the bees that help produce the fruits in our grocery baskets. Many users started our activity saying, “I had no idea bees were moved around like this!” The same people would leave our farmers’ market stand saying, “this is really informational, I learned a lot here.” Supporting pollinators is a big challenge, but progress has to start somewhere. Engaging participatory games that reinforce a data-driven narrative felt like the right way to introduce the discussion!

Adventures of a Frequent Flyer – Methodology

We started with the example bee colony dataset that was included in the project suggestions. From there, we explored how bee populations have changed over time. It was clear from the data that bee populations have rebounded to a certain extend from their low points about 5 years ago. We explored what are the biggest risks facing bees, finding articles about pesticides, mites, and accidents related to the transport of bees in trucks.

Curious about the circumstances that led to 92,000 bees in a semitruck traveling on the California interstate highways, we discovered some interesting facts about migratory bees. Particularly, we were shocked with the scale and complexity involved to pollenate crops around the US. We found some data from the USDA to understand more concretely how bees travel throughout the country. The numbers were staggering both in terms of the market opportunity for commercial bees and the distance traveled by bees each year. While impressive, the numbers were so large, that they were hard to interpret and even harder to feel connected to at the local level. At first, we struggled to connect the story about the nationwide tours bees with the local impact an audience could feasibly enact.

The cascading effects of bee health are so large that lawmakers around the US have proposed legislation to protect pollinators. Washington state, for example, has enacted laws that protect bees from dangerous pesticides. Many other states, including Massachusetts, have proposals, but so far nothing has been signed into law. Since bees take long winding journeys throughout the country, it is possible that the proposed effects of new regulations could have an outsize effect on bees around the country. With this call to action, we survey possible delivery techniques to make our data relatable, actionable, and memorable. While the map we found online was interesting, it had extraneous information that didn’t focus on the story we wanted to tell.  Therefore, we created an abstract map that would highlight the same arduous paths for migratory bees, while removing details that were not central to our message.

To make our story understandable and memorable, we decided to employ a participatory game. We prompted users to make predictions and invited them to trace the paths that bees travel, highlighting important facts along the way that would confirm/reject their estimations. The game structure, in addition to engaging the user, helped us sequentially present a lot of information in a digestible manner. Steps in the game introduced new facts about the bees such as where particular fruits were in the US and the legislation(s) protecting bees in those areas. We aimed to fit the narrative arc of our story to the sequential nature of the game. Our combination of humor, abstraction, and interaction aims to entertain and inform users, creating a memorable experience with actionable next steps. Incorporating many of the ideas from throughout the semester, we hope that Adventures of a Frequent Flyer will connect with people in a way that news articles haven’t and influence people to consider important issues that might easily be overlooked otherwise.


Links to our data:

Road to Sustainability

Kunyi Li, Caroline Liu, Margaret Sands, and Arturo Chavez

The data say that fuel economy for consumer vehicles varies dramatically. Building upon the knowledge of CO2 emissions in our last sketch, we were interested to take a closer look at the heterogeneity in efficiency across cars models on the market, one of the leading sources of CO2. It is common knowledge that auto emissions contribute significantly to pollution, but it is less clear that people incorporate fuel economy and CO2 emission properly into their car purchasing decision. The fact is that some cars have dramatically better fuel economy than others (Toyota Prius travels >50 MPG in the city while Dodge Charger travels only 19 MPG). The long-term effect of this difference can be significant, but it’s gradual nature makes it hard for people to realize it at the dealership.   

Inspired by the New York Times’ article “You Draw It: How Family Income Predicts Children’s College Chances,” we wanted to engage people to estimate the consequences of fuel economy. We ask the player to make a concrete predictions about the impact of their preferred car coupled with their lifestyle choices. The primary audience is young car buyers, likely purchasing their first new car. We envision this interactive game embedded into,, or (and their mobile app versions) to best capture our tech-inclined target audience.

Many CO2 infographics come across as scolding people for their environmentally unfriendly choices, but we wanted to take a different approach. Our aim is to coach players to develop a precise intuition about the consequences of their transportation choices. Then people can make a conscious choice with complete information. The interactive game structure where players make guesses and the game responds with feedback makes for excellent training to understand their own impact. We designed the prediction prompts to involve minimal math and hope the users will enjoy the estimation challenge. We are calling car buyers to choose consciously about the real costs related to the models people choose.


Where did Beijing go and will it come back?

When we saw this photo, we were shocked.

In the press, Beijing has stood out for the levels of pollution. Before the 2008 Olympics, visitors and athletes alike voiced concern over the quality of the air. Since then, by the US State Department data, it has become worse.

Diving into the data we noticed that Beijing’s air quality is not as simple a story as it is sometimes reported. There is wide variation in the air quality and visibility in Beijing. One of the most startling differences was experienced in September of 2015 when the Chinese government held the “largest parade it’s ever held” to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Japan’s defeat in WWII. During the celebration, factories were closed and cars were banned from roaming the streets. A few days after the bans were put into effect, the smog cleared and people saw blue skies in Beijing for once.

We wanted to recreate that experience and to inspire the younger generation to take some action to decreasing their carbon footprint. The air quality is inherently a sensory experience. Pollution can be seen, but it can also be felt. For this reason, our group thought physicalizing the information about air quality trends would make an impression that pictures on a page wouldn’t be able to. We want visitors to try to find images of the Beijing skyline in different pools of water that represent the level of pollution. On a clear day like in September 2015, it’ll be easy to spot those images since the water is clear. But on the worse days, such as in the winter when the coal plants are fired up to provide heating, the water is dark and feels viscous so it’s difficult to find the Beijing skyline. The reality is no different; the smog can swallow up the entire skyline and it’s difficult and dangerous to breathe in the air.

Fighting pollution will be a multi-generational challenge, so our chosen audience is children in China. We present this concept for an installation in the museums in Beijing, preferably in the children’s area. Some of them might have never witnessed blue skies so we want to show them that the environment they live in now can be improved. We also want them to leave with a physical image of the clear skyline of Beijing and on the back of that image, have more information about air pollution and steps they can take to limit their carbon footprint.

By Caroline Liu, Alicia Ouyang, Arturo Chavez

Doctor’s Orders for CO2 Emissions Reduction

The data says that some of the largest economies are far from meeting their Paris Agreement CO2 reduction targets.   We wanted to tell this story because the ability to credibly commit to sustainable practices will be essential to preventing catastrophic climate changes. Just as many individuals commit to lose weight but fail to follow through, many national regimes to reduce carbon emissions are off track. To make this issue more relatable to our audience, we have created a collection of health reports, resembling the report one would receive at a yearly checkup. This format naturally lends itself to sharing several indicator variables for healthy CO2 reduction along with a set of interventions that the patient (or nation) can take to alter the current trend.

Our group was drawn to study the CO2 data because of its relevance to the future of society. The World Bank’s statistics about CO2 emissions over time speak volumes about many aspects of life around of the world. However, often the scale of the numbers and units of measure are so large and the corresponding forecasts so technical, decision makers around the world struggle to internalize and act upon this information. We saw this as an exciting challenge for data visualization, so we have incorporated creative charts to display CO2 emissions trajectories overlaid with national commitments from the Paris Agreement. Our goal is for the viewer to find the information eye-catching and precise but also relatable.

At first, we were overwhelmed by the span of the data, both in terms of time and number of nations. We decided to reduced our scope to the countries producing a large share of global CO2 emissions. We used Tableau to sort and slice the data to find patterns over the past 10-15 years. With the coverage of the Paris Agreement controversy in the news, we were interested to explore how CO2 levels corresponded to promised reduction.

We found many data visualizations on CO2 emissions, but few were able to relate large numbers into a digestible form that had personal meaning. Many graphics used simple bar and line charts that failed to clearly express the story we were interested to find. We believe that the health report format is an appropriate way to organize statistics to tell a story about the credibility of Paris Agreement commitments to CO2 reduction. If we had more time, we would expand our analysis to more nations and segment CO2 by industry sector in each country in order to tell a more comprehensive story of the global CO2 reduction effort.


By Caroline Liu, Kunyi Li, Yihang Sui, and Arturo Chavez