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Choosing the Right Data for Your Story
Choosing the Right Data for Your Story

Learn how to select the right data to tell the story of your community.

Written by Aliyah Hunter
Updated over a week ago

Choosing the right data is key to developing your community’s story.  

The right data for your story will come through an exploration of your goals and the problems you are trying to address for your community. Once you have an understanding of your goals and the problems you want to address, you can start putting together an outline of data points that help you tell that narrative. As your data develops, you may learn things you never knew about your community that will start to change your story. Just like your story, your data shouldn't be static through the dashboard development process; rather, they should work together and change as you learn more about your community. 

What is your end goal for the dashboard? 

First things first, you need to establishing the topic and purpose of your dashboard. Who is your audience and what are you trying to explain to them? This will not only influence your narrative, but the data you choose. Think about what you want the viewers or stakeholders to learn from the data and use those ideas to drive how you tell your story.  

What problems are you trying to address?

Your dashboard should strive to address problems in your community or to help inform decisions that address those problems. For example, if your dashboard focuses on health you may be trying to address problems of inequality in health outcomes. The over aching problem of inequality will help structure your dashboard. 

What sets your community apart?

All communities have things that make them unique and those unique qualities will help tell your story. Basic demographics like race, income, and education can help give context to your community story. Your topic should be explained in the context of your community and should evolve as your data evolves.

Part of setting your community apart is comparing it to other cities in the region. It can be beneficial to compare statistics in your community to your state or the national average. These comparisons give the viewer a sense of progress and provide context to determine where your community stands in relations to neighboring communities, your state or the nation.

If you want to compare peer regions, consider cities of similar sizes or neighboring counties. Is there another city in the region that has a similar size/demographic make up/economy to yours? This is a good place to start. Make sure you’re being realistic in your comparisons. 

Also, when comparing, it is often best to normalize your data for the most consistency. This could be viewing a variable per capita or per household so that you can compare percentages and not necessarily counts.

Need a suggestion for your peer cities? Email the team at [email protected] and we can help point you in the right direction. 

Choosing additional data

If your dashboard follows a theme, the majority of your data will too. If you are writing about public health, you will have disease and mortality rates. Economic development would include employment rates and income. Fire dashboards include response times and incident data.

You should not only include the basic statistics, but the contributors. Think about your problem and what social and environmental factors connect to it. For a health-related report look at diseases and health problems, but also look at the causes such as diet, exercise, and a clean environment. You can also focus on impacts to a subpopulation like women, children, or minorities. 

All communities have stats available on public health, economic development, education, and more, but what makes those statistics unique to your area? Is there a health crisis, a large low-income population, or a large employer nearby? If you’re doing a health dashboard, are STDs, opioids, or obesity an issue in your community? Are there educational or assistance programs in your community that benefit people? Are they effective? Who are they helping? The more questions you ask the easier it will be to look for and find the data to tell your story. 

Think about the data available

You have a variety of data available to you through the mySidewalk library to help tell your data story, but this data is only the beginning. Consider the data that you have locally at the state, county, or even city level. Locally-sourced data will be more specific and can provide variables that are unique to your study area to elevate your story. Finding the data can sometimes be a challenge, but if you know it exists and can find it we can bring almost anything into the mySidewalk App and work the data into your story. We have built a tool that we call "availability" to help you find data to work with your story. When you see messages in data selection about 'unavailable data', try selecting a different geography to see if that helps get you where you want to be.

How do I display the data?

Once you choose the data, it is important to display it effectively in order to get your point across. The mySidewalk Platform has several options for data display including maps, callouts, tables, bar charts, pie charts, time series, correlations, progress trackers, goals, and custom charts. For more information on choosing which component display to use for your data click here. 

Do I create the story or the data first?

Both. This dilemma is the chicken and egg of data storytelling. It is important to consider both your narrative and your data when starting your dashboard. Don’t shape your data to fit your narrative. You should be honest and show viewers the truth of the data and write the dashboard narrative around that truth. Your narrative can have an agenda, but your data shouldn't. If your goal is to show growth in your community but the number of homes have been decreasing recently you should keep that data and call it an opportunity for more housing development. The processes of storytelling and adding data should inform one another to provide a clear, accurate view of your study area.

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