By Helen Bailey, Scott Gilman, Sofia Reinach, & Olivia Brode-Roger
The data say that Somerville’s many trees face several vulnerabilities, including their health and proximity to unrepaired natural gas leaks that can suffocate their roots. We want to tell this story because we all benefit from trees on our streets and in our parks, but we often take them for granted and ignore the threats they face. Our audience is residents of Somerville. Our goals are to educate them on the condition of trees in their neighborhood and prompt them to take action to protect Somerville’s urban canopy.
We tell this story using an interactive website that local advocacy groups could share on social media. First, users select their neighborhood from a map of Somerville, and then a series of three maps presents the canopy size/area of shade provided, tree condition, and hazard from unrepaired gas leaks. This interaction and our use of the maps as a portrait of each neighborhood’s trees allows the user to find themselves more easily in the data and connect the maps to their lived experience with trees in the neighborhood. After looking at the maps, users are then asked which aspect of tree health they most care about, both to collect data for the advocacy group to help tailor their outreach and to show an appropriate call to action (for example, call a number to request a new tree, or contact the Public Utilities Commission to pressure the utilities to repair minor leaks).
We originally were looking at the gas leak data by itself, but found it difficult to tell a meaningful story on its own. So, we then looked at which gas leaks were threatening trees as a hook to get people to care about gas leaks, and decided to center our narrative on other measures of tree health
The data say that the Arctic is melting quickly, which threatens many species that live there. We wanted to tell this story because the Arctic is already experiencing the effects of climate change more than almost anywhere else on the planet, and yet it’s easy to ignore what’s happening there as it feels so removed from our world. Our audience is students in their 20s or 30s in Cambridge – we specifically imagined that this could be something students could play with friends in the Muddy Charles. Our goal is to provoke them to take some small actions to combat climate change that are possible on a student budget and schedule.
We made a modified version of Jenga to accomplish these goals. We added a deck of shuffled cards to the game. Each turn, instead of just removing one block, a player draws a card and follows the instructions. Some of the cards are factual – for example, “In 2017, the area of Arctic summer sea ice was the second-lowest ever recorded – behind only 2007. Remove two blocks!” Others involve polling the group about their carbon-emitting habits, and taking action based on the result – for example, “Ask each player if they turned the lights off before they left home today? If all of you did, congratulations. Otherwise, shame on you – remove a block!” Finally, a third category prompts players to take action and allows them to skip a turn; for example, one card asks players to call their Massachusetts state representative to voice support for a statewide carbon tax.
Jenga’s end, when the tower falls, is symbolic of the Arctic melting. It’s also a simple, widely known game that can easily engage our audience without much effort on their part. Finally, there is already a dynamic of collective responsibility in Jenga – there’s no winner as the players are essentially working together to keep the tower up, and the loser is whoever lets the group down, which appropriately frames the latter two card types that are based on individual action for the collective good.
With more time, we would definitely invest more time into the design of the Jenga pieces, making them feel more Polar. The game is also very flexible, and we would experiment with adapting it to other contexts – for example, developing a giant version to play outside or in Lobby 10 during Earth Day. It would also be cool to make giant Jenga pieces out of ice and play it at a winter festival. The cards themselves are very flexible, and you could easily add new actions based on different contexts – for example, activist groups could add cards about fundraising for their organizations or signing a petition.
The data say that most Hubway riders keep riding through adverse weather conditions like rain and heat. We want to tell this story because we want to celebrate Hubway riders’ resilience and illustrate how important biking and Hubway is to life in Boston.
Our data sources included all Hubway trips taken between 2015 and 2017 (excluding December 2016), and the weather (high temperature and precipitation events) for every day in that time period. Our presentation starts with a hook: an appeal to Boston’s hometown pride through giving several examples of the city’s tough character and the map of Boston in the background. We then present a surprising fact that illustrates this – there are more Hubway trips taken on average when it’s over 90 degrees, and then compare this with behavior in other kinds of weather. Then, we look at a similar story through a different lens – average trip duration. Through these sections, we use easily recognizable icons to tie the graphs into the story – bike icons for the average number of trip pictographs, and stopwatches as pie charts to illustrate average trip duration. This fits into our framing of the fact that trip duration doesn’t change as a result of weather as “We don’t cut corners”. Using the Hubway color palette is also a visual language that our intended audience will associate with biking.
Furthermore, using the first-person plural and a casual tone in our narrative fosters the sense of community that we are trying to convey. Our final chart, which compares the viewer’s average ride duration in different weather with the average Hubway users, also encourages viewers to think of themselves as part of the Boston biking community and makes the data that we present more relatable by providing a personal point of comparison.
There are several stories that we considered but decided to leave out. For example, we looked at ridership of snowy days, which is lower than ridership on rainy or hot days but not all that different from the winter normal. However, we didn’t want to introduce another baseline of comparison which might make interpreting the charts and narrative more difficult. Telling the story of biking in the snow would be best suited for its own presentation. We also did not tell the story of gender in different weather. Similarly to age, the gender composition of riders did not change across different weather types, but we found this less surprising than the fact that the age distribution did not change. Finally, we also did an analysis of how origin and destination stations change in different weather but found (aside from those closed in winter) that they did not change all that much, which suggests riders are still going where they need to go. Ultimately, though, we decided that the duration piece told that story in a more comprehensible and relatable way.
This visualization, “Are Democrats/Republicans Winning the Race for Congress?”, shows FiveThirtyEight’s aggregation of generic ballot polls – ie, polls that ask citizens whether they plan to vote for Democrats or Republicans in November. I think their audience is relatively well-educated people with an interest in politics but who don’t work in politics or follow it intensely. I also think their audience is younger – 20 and 30-somethings – since their content is wells suited to social media. I also think that they tend to live on the coasts/in major metro areas and are left-leaning. The goals of this presentation are to show the change over time in the estimate for the 2018 midterm Congressional election, and also to show the uncertainty inherent in doing polls and poll aggregation. I think that this presentation is effective. The designers used visual hierarchy well so that the first thing users notice is the trendline of the poll aggregation. Leaving the rest of the chart blank until election also underscores the fact that this is the best prediction for election day based on current conditions, and it is likely to change as it has in the past. Showing the 90% confidence interval and highlighting the overlap between the Democratic and Republican confidence intervals in purple helps the audience to understand the imprecision of polls in a way that simply annotating these figures does not. Further, plotting the results of each individual poll allows the audience to quickly identify outliers – this could be very useful to fact-check news outlets that dramatically report outliers without putting them in context. It would be helpful if users could click on an individual poll to see the name and/or see it highlighted in the table underneath, so that you could investigate what’s happening with the outliers or other polls.