The Boston Foundation launched a new resource for community organizations and media on November 27 – the Boston Indicators Project website. The site now contains data visualization tools, thanks to a collaboration with the Institute for Visualization and Perception Research at UMass Lowell.
“Data and reports alone do not produce change,” said Charlotte Kahn, Senior Director of the Boston Indicators Project. To create change, data must lead to action. And community organizations can use data to illuminate the challenges they face.
One way the Boston Indicators Project website helps nonprofits build momentum for social action is by giving communicators the visual tools to tell strong stories to reporters.
“Data is the new sexy,” said John Davidow, Executive Editor at WBUR. Davidow participated in a panel of journalists who described the ways they wanted to use community data to tell stories about poverty, unemployment and crime.
If data-based stories look sexy to journalists, nonprofits in the Boston area can easily leverage this website to earn media attention for their work – much of which happens under the radar of the press.
The website covers 10 sectors: Civic Vitality, Cultural Life & the Arts, Economy, Education, Environment & Energy, Health, Housing, Public Safety, Technology and Transportation. Nonprofits working in any of these areas can download data from the site and use them for media outreach.
For example, the map of pollution hazards below might be useful to advocacy organizations. The color red indicates the highest concentration of sites while white shows the lowest concentration.
There are many ways to present the data you want – once you have found them. Rahul Bhargava, a research specialist from the MIT Center for Civic Media, spoke about visualization techniques during one of the PechaKucha talks at the launch. He described using evocative images, annotated graphs, physical models, and community-created art. He also mentioned software such as Wordle, Taxego, Prezi and Omnigraphsketcher.
Communication with media can and should go beyond press releases. Community-created art projects and physical models of data may attract reporters’ attention and build support for nonprofits’ work. Even a flash mob could illuminate statistics from the Boston Indicators Project.
The UMass Lowell team which developed the visualizations for the Boston Indicators Project is also collaborating with organizations in other cities. For more information about mapping projects outside Boston, visit oicweave.org.
Note: Although you can download all of the data sets from the Boston Indicators Project website into Excel currently, not all of the visualization pages are working yet.