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.