How Nonprofits Can Earn News Coverage Using Data Visualization

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.

Environmental justice map

A map of environmental hazards in the Boston area. (Data source: Metropolitan Area Planning Commission)

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.


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5 Comments

  1. Thanks, Kat! I returned to school to gain software development skills, after having worked as an information professional for the past decade. Ultimately, I’d like to help tell important stories by combining my data retrieval, synthesis, organization, and visualization skills :)

    • I think there is definitely demand for that combination of skills on the East Coast, but it tends to be at universities or at some of the larger nonprofit-sector organizations like The Boston Foundation. I’m not sure how it is in other parts of the United States.

      Where do you want to live after you graduate?

      Also, if you add me on Twitter, I can send you some links to the Twitter feeds of people I know.

  2. Pingback: Measuring what we value, and presenting the findings more interactively than ever « Deborah Elizabeth Finn, Strategist and Consultant

  3. Pingback: AJ Fletcher Foundation » Visual Storytelling

  4. I do believe all of the concepts you have presented on your post.

    They are very convincing and will definitely work.

    Still, the posts are too brief for newbies. May just you please prolong them a bit from
    next time? Thanks for the post.

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