Why we changed our data website…

Photo by justgrimes

Photo by justgrimes

One of WCA’s primary goals is to bring attention to children’s issues in a compelling way that inspires people towards action. As we embark upon our second century of children’s advocacy, we’re dealing with short attention spans, increasing demands on time, and a world that seems to increasingly fragment into disparate voices by the millisecond. And in a world where people demand increasing accountability, we need to shed light on issues in an authoritative and truthful manner. It’s not enough to tell a bunch of sob stories and be done with it. People demand, and should continue to demand, quantitative evidence of need before they invest time and financial resources to an issue.

The challenge

So as we continue on our path of data-driven advocacy, we face this challenge: How can we present information, particularly data, in a way that inspires people to action without compromising accuracy and veracity? How can we encourage people to actually see data as an opportunity for exploration and discovery, as opposed to an obligation for funders and evaluators?

We found that it was not enough to blast people with data. If anything, doing so was a disservice. It certainly didn’t guarantee that people would start talking about data, much less use it for their own advocacy. Even worse, too much data can create a certain paralysis that only assures that the intended audience won’t absorb any information at all.

Analyzing the solution

As it turns out, we found that people found the data most valuable when we discussed the actual process of data analysis. That analysis may be in the form of an infographic, an interactive map, or even old fashioned words, but it is the process of analysis that may be the most meaningful disclosure of all. How do you look at numbers without preconceived notions, without an agenda, when the very nature of children’s advocacy requires us to gather anecdotal evidence and to develop an agenda? How do you avoid blindly stereotyping a community when the data seemingly tells you the same story over and over again, so when the data starts telling you a DIFFERENT story you are ready to listen? We needed to give people the tools to discover for themselves what the data actually meant.

Sharing data through social media

We also realized that our existing data website not only didn’t allow for social media sharing, it also didn’t allow for any discussion of the data whatsoever. There was no opportunity to analyze the numbers, nor any room to provide context for them.

Which is why in 2014, our centennial year, we embarked upon a number of changes that will improve our data-driven advocacy. We’ve already distributed the next iteration of Westchester Children By the Numbers – a bulletin rich in visualization. It highlights the current core issues facing our children, and we hope it provides an effective lens to allow us to see what is going wrong and right in the lives of Westchester’s children. And by converting our online database to a blog, we hope to place equal value on visualization, analysis, AND raw data. This new blog will also allow you to share what you find here with others through social media.

In conclusion

Data without context or analysis is data stripped of its power to inform and influence others. In the end, we hope these more concise yet potent tools support the efforts not only of WCA, but of other advocates, as we all continue to champion for children.

We are especially grateful to the Westchester Community Foundation for providing us with major support for this blog.

We also want to say thanks to Tara Framer at Tara Framer Design for her guidance and gimlet eye as we built the foundation for this blog. And a shout-out goes to Kelly Campbell and Matthew Ell at Liqui-Site Designs for their technical/programming expertise. It truly has been a wonderful experience working with these three.