3 Basic Steps to Storytelling with Government Data

July 5, 2016 12:00 pm PST | Open Data

Your government’s data is only valuable if people use it. Yet most people — citizens and staff alike — aren’t trained in data analysis to interpret and comprehend complex datasets.

Storytelling works.

Providing context, or a story, around data helps people understand the facts. Our brains are hardwired to think in stories; your constituents and colleagues are no different.

Publicly available data can answer 85% of constituents’ questions, but research shows that almost half of the questions require additional commentary to fully communicate answers.

In the attempt to offer context alongside data though, government agencies have relied on static PDFs to deliver reports and information — an inherently out-of-date and time-intensive method. To compound the issue, data is hidden in lengthy, complex reports that few people read.

31% of the World Bank’s PDF reports have never been downloaded, and 40% have been downloaded fewer than 100 times.

Governments have the ingredients to tell compelling stories, but often don’t. Between not knowing where to start, employee workloads, bureaucratic processes, and outdated technology, communicating the context around data can be an arduous task.

In our Foundations for Government Storytelling: Tell the Story and Drive Action webinar, Socrata’s Performance and Innovation Consultant, Jessica Carsten, shares how governments can drive action through storytelling both internally and in the communities they serve — even with limited technical resources.

What does Carsten advise?

  • Step One: Identify data that you’re already using internally. It’s likely the most used, up-to-date, and valuable.
  • Step Two: Determine how that data helps deliver services, supports legislation, or shows value of programs.
  • Step Three: Craft a narrative around the data, using technology that allows graphs, tables, and maps to dynamically update as new data becomes available. This method allows your data to always be current.

Dive into Data and Narrative: Foundations for Government Storytelling to discover how technology can help tell data-driven stories that power community engagement.

Get the guide to government storytelling


If you’d like to learn how to create your own compelling data stories, sign up for our free online course on Visualization and Communication through the Socrata Data Academy.


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