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:

It’s a Mysterbee: Methodology

We took bee colony data from 2016 and 2017 from this dataset:

Specifically, the numbers we represented were from the Number of Colonies, Maximum, Lost, Percent Lost, Added, Renovated, and Percent Renovated with Five or More Colonies datasets, and we took the data from October-December 2016 and April-June 2017. We focused on data related to Massachusetts so that individuals would have a more personal connection to the data. We selected the data to exhibit the drop in colony count over a six month period. In particular, we really wanted to emphasize how rapidly colony count can decline over a short amount of time. The data was already very clean for our intended purposes, so we do not have to perform any additional cleaning. We did not have to complete any additional analysis (aggregation, etc.) because the numbers related to the story we wanted to tell are already in the dataset.


Once our data was actually selected and prepared, we deliberated on the best way to present the data. We knew that the story we wanted to tell was that bee colonies are rapidly declining (and can quickly drop going forward). We considered many different strategies for portraying this message including: a weight based participatory data game (where the weight of certain objects corresponds to the value of the data), a geographically oriented participatory data game (where the geographical location of the relevant data is at the core of the story), a physical data participatory game (where the physical properties of objects/entities associated with bees are at the core of the story).


Ultimately, we decided that a physical data participatory game, in which the physical properties of objects/entities associated with bees are utilized to tell the story, was best. We believed that this editorial decision would enhance the personal connection that people make with the data and therefore improve both impact and memory for participants. We also thought that a simple, efficient participatory data game would improve people’s willingness to engage in the game.


From there, we had to decide which physical objects that are associated with bees we could utilize in our participatory data game. Several came to mind: hives, trees, flowers, other plants, honey, etc. We decided that honey was the optimal choice because many people are familiar with honey and immediately associate honey with bees. Other objects, such as flowers, have less direct relation with bees, which might create some ambiguity for participants. Beyond this, honey has several well defined and recognized physical properties that we could exploit for our data game such as: viscosity, distinct color, and enjoyable taste. All of these factors contributed to our decision to utilize honey to tell the story of declining bee populations.


Sticking with the minimalist design that we thought would increase participant engagement, we chose to fill two opaque jars with honey. The amount of honey in each jar directly corresponded to the number of colonies in the respective time period (2016 or 2017), which are not initially visible to the viewer. From there, we wanted to incorporate the physical properties of taste and viscosity into the experience. So, we gave each participant two crackers and instructed them to dip their crackers into each jar. Immediately, participants see a significantly less amount of honey on the cracker dipped in the 2017 jar. From there, the participants have the option of eating the cracker, at which point the sense of taste becomes involved in the data experience. From this minimalist experience, participants are quickly oriented around the topic of bees and educated on the rapidity and immediacy of their decline through a very tangible, real, and memorable medium.

If participants want more information, we provide them with a brochure that gives more thorough context and understanding. In particular, we encourage participants (since they are MIT students) to engage in or support MIT research on the topic. This is explained more thoroughly in the impact blog post.


It’s a Mysterbee: Impact

Bee Colony Collapse Disorder has been known for a while, but there is still a lot of mystery around the causes of this phenomenon. There have been numerous approaches to solving the issue, from robotic bees to redesigning of hives. We believe that a solution can be found only if people from unconventional fields decide to take on the problem and explore new methods to answer unconsidered questions.


We decided to specifically target MIT students for our story, as we believe that the MIT community has little to no background knowledge about bee colony collapse disorder. By informing them, we’re hoping to inspire to take action, whether it’s get involved in bee research, joining bee-related extracurriculars, or starting their own projects. After they interact with the cups, we invited the audience to read a pamphlet that listed our more bee colony collapse disorder facts, and listed current MIT bee research and the MIT beekeeping club.

We designed our surveys such that we measured prior knowledge of issues by asking if they thought bee research was a pressing issue. We then follow-up in post asking if the exhibit changed their minds or no (1 indicating no change, 5 most change). We also ask if MIT should be more active in this area, with a 1 being no change, and 5 an emphatic agreement.


We ran an in-person test of this survey on the 5th floor of the student center, near the beehives that the MIT Beekeeping club has. Being able to have a direct connection with the space we were in was helpful in maintaining participants interest beyond the initial appeal of free food.


We got 5 responses, 4 of which responded that bee research was “maybe” important, and one saying that it is wasn’t. In the post survey, we asked for their opinion change, getting two 5s, one 4, and two 3s as responses (5 being a paradigm shift, 1 being no change). In addition, when asking if MIT should be more active in this area – our call to action – respondents gave one 3, three 4s, and one 5 as an answer.


It is worth noting that all of our survey takers were undergraduate students involved in Computer Science (3A-6, 6-3, and 18C majors) and only one was male. We suspect this is just a fluke of our small sample size. In the future iterations, we hope to increase this impact to graduate students and more departments.


In addition to these data, we also noticed that participants engaged deeply with the exhibit, often leading to a thoughtful discussion of current research and future avenues. Of note, many participants seemed to really enjoy the taste of honey (more so than we were expecting) which reaffirmed our belief that tasty food would be a great way to engage and attract participants. This was even true for participants initially disinterested in the project. However, the impact and interest in the exhibit did seem to depend on the participants’ prior knowledge of the bee decline issue.