inspiring action through data-driven storytelling

inspiring action through data-driven storytelling

As a person who has dedicated my adult life to helping move the needle on social justice issues, I understand deeply why so many people feel disenfranchised, unable to take action on issues they care about in ways that actually make a difference. The landscape is daunting: social challenges are articulated in huge, overwhelming ways; physical protest feels meaningful mostly only when a significant number decide to do it simultaneously; and the organizations dedicated to change don’t usually do an adequate job of ensuring that our highest contributions—those of knowledge and specific skills—are effectively engaged. It is hard to know where to start.

Data—when used to tell a good story—can help break through these obstacles and begin to frame an achievable path to action. Take, for example, this Prison Population Forecaster developed recently by The Urban Institute. Using data gathered from 15 states, they have tracked the rise (or, less frequently, the fall) of prison populations in recent years (time frames vary). They then offer the opportunity for the user to test different policy scenarios: If we made XX policy change, it would result in XX impact on the prison population over the next seven years.

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After exploring the Forecaster for a while, it helped me understand how different the challenges are for each state. It helped me see that the level of action we need to take in order to significantly change the trends of mass incarceration are far beyond what I originally understood. Perhaps most importantly, it provided me with a framework for making my own choices about what policy changes to support for the kind of change I want to see.

This tool also brought me to a bigger question: Are we as social justice activists using data-driven storytelling to help people engage in the issues they care about in a truly impactful way? There is plenty of data in our world, used mostly to evaluate the impact of past social change efforts and guide our future strategies. That is different than the ability to tell a data-driven story that moves people from awareness to action and not just action, but meaningful, sustainable action. It is the story that makes the difference.

I find this to be a powerful opportunity for those of us who develop, test, and lead new approaches to engagement and movement building in the effort to attain social justice. It is one of the reasons I am so grateful to be here at Aggregate. (Pardon the shameless—but authentic!—plug.) Long before I arrived (just this past June), the team here was exploring these ideas and developing tools like this one focused on Visualizing Health Data. They help us understand there is no single best way to share data. The story you tell with data depends on what your goals are, whom you are trying to reach, and what action you want them to take.

In an environment where engagement, community organizing, and policy change efforts are happening more and more frequently online—and in a world where people are constantly informing their lives and choices via mobile devices—the right data-driven digital story has the power to inspire an unprecedented number of people to meaningful action.

I haven’t seen a spreadsheet yet that helps get people out of prison, that’s for sure.

we always lie to strangers – sxsw special jury prize

we always lie to strangers – sxsw special jury prize

Aggregate’s Creative Director, David Wilson, and his partner AJ Schnack have been awarded the Special Jury Prize for Directing for Documentary at SXSW for their film We Always Lie to Strangers, about the town of Branson MO. The film had its world premiere at SXSW and will be playing other festivals this spring. You can “like” the film on Facebook to stay on top of news about screenings close to you.

we’re sponsoring the true/false film fest

we’re sponsoring the true/false film fest

When David Wilson isn’t directing or producing video content for Aggregate or making films of his own, he serves as the “Co-Conspirator”—alongside Paul Sturtz—of the True/False Film Fest, one of the country’s most well-regarded documentary film festivals.

Now in its tenth year, True/False is a reflection of David and Paul’s love for great documentaries, powerful storytelling, talented filmmakers and Columbia, Missouri, the festival’s home town and the happiest place on earth every year at the end of February/beginning of March.

Because of our love of storytelling, our belief in its ability to change the world (for the better) and our love for and belief in David, Aggregate is excited to announce that we are sponsoring the festival in 2013 and hopefully in years to come.

If you can get to Missouri February 28-March 3, join us at the festival. You won’t be disappointed.

(And check back for highlights from the fest.)

 

getting along is not social change

getting along is not social change

Alison Byrne Fields shares her thoughts on the tough work behind effective collaboration at “Collaboration Central” on PBS’ MediaShift.

Hint: It has nothing to do with “getting along.”

“Too often, we enter into a partnership or collaboration like we’re on a first date. We mask our faults with a coat of makeup or a new outfit, pretend to have interests and capabilities we don’t have, and assign super-human qualities to the person sitting across the table in the hopes that they might just be “the one.”

thoughts on how to survive a plague

thoughts on how to survive a plague

A few of the Aggregate team members recently got the chance to attend a screening of How to Survive a Plague, a documentary about the AIDS activist movement in the early days of the pandemic.

From: Alison Byrne Fields
To: Haley Sides, Melissa Duque
Subject: Thoughts on How to Survive a Plague

Melissa & Haley,

I’m really glad you finally got the chance to go see How to Survive a Plague. I’ve been in love with the film since seeing it with friends at Sundance at the beginning of the year and have been on a mission to encourage everyone I know to see it too.

There are so many things that I love about the film: how effective the use of old Hi8 and VHS footage is at conveying the intimacy and DIY nature of the movement, the message that self-interest is a perfectly justifiable motivator for becoming an activist, the “characters” in the film, how strategic the activists were to educate themselves about the science to better enable them to know what to ask for and to partner with researchers, the unexpected decision by the director, David France, not to demonize Big Pharma and to portray their researchers as heroes in their own right. This list could keep going.

A few months back, I had the opportunity to speak with David France, who said that his goal with the film was that the story of the HIV/AIDS movement would become part of the canon. After hearing him say that, I found this great quote on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s site about the Black civil rights movement in the United States:

“The civil rights movement is one of the defining events in American history, providing a bracing example of Americans fighting for the ideals of justice and equality. When students learn about the movement, they learn what it means to be an active American citizen. They learn how to recognize injustice. They learn about the role of individuals, as well as the importance of organization. And they see that people can come together to stand against oppression.”

Ensuring people see and know the story of How to Survive a Plague has that same power.

Tell me what you think. What stood out most for you?

– Alison

From: Haley Sides
To: Alison Byrne Fields, Melissa Duque
Subject: Re: Thoughts on How to Survive a Plague

Hi Alison and Meli,

Thank you for sending us to see How to Survive a Plague, Alison. Being born in the mid 80s, I was young and don’t have a strong recollection of the HIV/AIDS crisis of the 80s and 90s. This film beautifully portrays the extent to which AIDS activists had to go to compel society, the government and the scientific community  to act on this crisis. I found it amazing to see everyday people becoming experts and building legitimacy within the scientific community. The personal narratives of people living with HIV/AIDS combined with the evolution of activism around the HIV/AIDS crisis made for one of the most humbling, saddening, yet empowering documentaries I’ve ever seen.

The film also spoke to me on a very personal level. I found out in 2002 that a loved one of mine had just been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. This film put in perspective for me that in the U.S., between 2002 and only a decade prior, the difference in such a diagnosis is literally the difference between living with HIV/AIDS and dying from it. I couldn’t help but to reach out to Peter Staley after the film and thank him and others for fighting for not only his own life but the lives of so many others.  By the way, Alison, Peter messaged me back and said to give you a big hug for being such a great supporter of the film. (((HUGS)))

One aspect of the film that spoke to me the most was the question of how society treats people who do human things. I’ll never forget sitting in class my senior year of high school, less than a year after I saw my own family member come *this close* to death, and hearing a classmate angrily say, “Why don’t we just kill every person who has HIV/AIDS?!” As the ACT UP activist Bob Rafsky put it in the film, “A decent society does not put people out to pasture and let them die because they’ve done a human thing.” Bob did not live to see the tides turn in 1995-96, but his words, his drive, his desperate plea to society, is haunting. The work he and others did has forced society to confront the ways in which we stigmatize HIV/AIDS and those living with it.

That’s my take on the film. I hope every person I know, or don’t know for that matter, takes the time to watch How to Survive a Plague, and that it sparks more open, sincere dialogue about HIV/AIDS.

– Haley

From: Melissa Duque
To: Haley Sides, Alison Byrne Fields
Subject: Re: Thoughts on How to Survive a Plague 

Haley & Alison,

It’s been almost a week since we watched the movie and the home videos of Bob Rafsky featured in the film are still with me. The entire film was done beautifully and I respect and adore how David France was able to weave in the story of Robert Rafsky’s fight against AIDS. But I’m not talking about Bob’s speeches at ACT UP or his confrontation with then presidential candidate Bill Clinton; I’m talking about those home videos shared throughout the film documenting his relationship with his daughter, Sara.It’s those quiet moments between a father and his daughter that tell the story of AIDS that no amount of pamphlets, statistics or infographics could ever do. In the videos I saw a man fighting against AIDS, and fighting to have more time with his little girl. At times the videos made me smile and other times I cried as I watched Bob’s health deteriorate.

That night after I watched the film, I kept thinking about that little girl. I mean how could I not, my last image of her was at her dad’s funeral crying. I decided to search for Sara. I found out that she’s a research associate at the Committee to Protect Journalists Americas program. In 2008 she was awarded a Fulbright Grant to research photojournalism and the Colombian armed conflict. What an incredible woman.

Haley, I put the quote you shared from Rafsky on our wall. It’s a great reminder of what we are working towards.

-Meli