When Lisa McKenzie set out to address the problem of poor outcomes for young people in Greater Shepparton, she knew that data would be the key to finding answers and unlocking their potential. As Executive Officer of the Greater Shepparton Lighthouse Project, McKenzie realised the importance of collating local data at a community level to better understand various issues that impacted youth life outcomes, including school readiness, school attendance, cultural integration, family violence and youth justice.

Gathering relevant data is only one half of the story; engaging with it is equally important. “Data is powerful,” says McKenzie, “Local data allows us to identify specific cohort level needs, while strong consultation and deep listening allow us to co-design innovative new responses with our community.”

Providing context to social issues

Community participation is critical to solving social issues, but traditional approaches to discussions with stakeholders are ineffective because they lack context. For people to fully understand the scale of problems and their impact on the community, personally interacting with raw data is necessary – it is the missing link that enables individual ownership and accountability, while promoting collective commitment to taking action.

Data storytelling, in essence, is how data is shared with the community. Building a narrative provides context and humanises data points as individuals. Data storytelling breathes life into the figures, making them a tangible part of one’s community consciousness.

Data storytelling is important because it enables perspective-sharing. “We can unpack data sets to take into account local insights and intricacies that add richness to the figures. We also incorporate our own understanding of the complexities and challenges behind each data set which allows for better problem understanding and more effective solutions,” says McKenzie.

Telling data stories

There is no right way to tell a data story. Organisations build narratives that best suit the problem(s) they are addressing, while considering community characteristics and needs.

Lisa spoke at our recent Community Connection event, alongside other Community Organisations who are using Data Storytelling to effect social change. You can watch the event video here >>
If you are a community organisation looking to connect, learn and share with others in this space, we’d love you to join our next Community Connection event here.

For Lighthouse, this meant utilising the ‘1,000 conversations’ model to speak to 1,000 people in the Greater Shepparton community regarding children. Two preprepared data packs covering primary (including early childhood) and secondary (including career preparedness) age groups were placed on tables. These packs contained overarching data sets pertaining to each group that formed the basis of discussions with community members in small clusters. Not only did these consultations provide tremendous insight on major topics, but they also helped in identifying actions that could affect change.

McKenzie has seen the results first-hand. “Utilising data is a strong and powerful tool as figures do not lie. It changes the conversation entirely because it presents a black and white measure that is irrefutable rather than subjective individual viewpoints. The focus of conversations turns to finding solutions rather than disputing the problem. Social issues can be big and complex – using data allows for immediate action as it brings a sense of urgency to the community that we cannot accept these outcomes for our young people,” she says.

Adding value through Seer

McKenzie believes that Seer Data’s platform has made a tremendous difference to the kind of data they have access to and how they analyse it. Seer enables Lighthouse to filter locally relevant data across various dimensions and also compare Greater Shepparton to other communities across the state and nation. “We can look at interventions in other regions that may hold some similarities to ours and gauge effectively if parts of this solution would be valuable within our community without forgetting the nuance of our local operating environment,” she says.

Seer has also helped simplify and share data with various stakeholders. “We have used data sets and visual insights from Seer’s platform in funding and grant applications, as well as project plans. Having accessible data sets supplemented by easy-to-read insight from tables and graphs gives people the confidence to interpret data and be empowered by knowledge,” she adds.

No shame in sharing

Data on its own is meaningless; but when shared and presented in the right context, it becomes invaluable. McKenzie advocates for a “cohesive approach” to data-sharing within communities to avoid wasting resources on ineffective interventions caused by using outdated data in policymaking.

“Utilising data that is not as current is a real problem,” she says, “Many institutions feel shame and continue to want to hide data because they are conscious of being perceived negatively. Experts also tend to store data in their fields but this does not benefit society in the long run.”

For McKenzie, the benefits of sharing data openly are clear. “Sharing particular data sets with partners for specific purpose and outcomes would allow us to do more within our community with the latest intel,” she says. In fact, Lighthouse’s data storytelling approach to engaging in conversations with local governments and policymakers has resulted in significant community wins, including the introduction of a healthy meals program at Mooroopna and a landmark AUD$120 million investment into the Shepparton Education Plan for a new secondary college.

“When we receive and utilise data for good, it has usually been shared by the people at the grassroots as they know the benefit of working together and understand our whole-of-community approach in seeking solutions,” says McKenzie. That, at its core, is what data storytelling is about – bringing people together to design a better future.

Article written for Seer by Madhavi Ravi