If you keep up with our news here at The Alexandria Archive Institute (AAI) you may have noticed that we talk about archaeology…a lot. But we also talk about teaching and literacy. And stories. And also sometimes data. And, recently, we’ve been talking a lot about data stories. However, one thing we haven’t discussed is what we mean by a data story.
If we do a quick search of “data story,” we’ll come up with a lot of results. We may find Nancy Duarte’s book DataStory: Explain Data and Inspire Action Through Story. Or courses on how to do Data Storytelling.
These results suggest that there are a lot of ways to make and use a data story. However, it doesn’t really define what we’re doing. But by sifting through the results we got an idea about what data stories are. However, the AAI’s Data Literacy Program (DLP) isn’t trying to recreate something that already exists. We’re building something for our archaeological community. Due to this, we need to define data stories for ourselves.
We decided to think about the necessary components to create any data story, regardless of if the data story was a tutorial, a video, or a narrative. To do this we broke the phrase into parts so we could define what we wanted our data stories to be.
So we started with questions like “what is a story?” When we consider stories outside of archaeology or data, usually they have a beginning and an ending, and provide narrative or meaning to a particular set of events or observations.
Ok great, but if all stories use observations, then is every story a data story? For us, no. Not all stories are data stories. Data are structured observation. Therefore, not all observations are data. And…we’re focusing on archaeological data literacy. That means our data stories use or focus on archaeological data to create narratives.
Based on these ideas, our program defines data stories as narratives created from archaeological data.
So now what does that look like? At first, it looked like tutorials. A technical component paired with a narrative component. But not everyone views these as stories. Furthermore, the DLP is interested in cultivating archaeological data literacy, not just data stories.
Because of this, data stories need to cultivate the many literacies required to be archaeologically data literate. To do that, we acknowledge that people tell stories in many ways and that people learn from stories differently. So we started thinking about how diverse literacy is and have outlined a series of stories that draw on many literacies to explore archaeological data.
Some stories reflect the fact that for some folks, listening to a conversation helps them understand archaeological data more than reading a paper. For these folks we’ll have our Dialogue Series, which will feature panels and livestream events based on archaeological data.
Other folks need to actively engage with datasets using creative media to better understand archaeology. For those kinds of learners we’ll have our Creative Series. These stories provide prompts for exploring data through different artistic mediums like poetry, painting, sculpture, cooking, and music.
While these stories may seem removed from our initial series of tutorials, they reflect the fact that as long as there is a narrative, how we tell a story is irrelevant. Furthermore, archaeology is the story of humanity, so we want to use all our human media to tell archaeological stories because it’s how we all live our lives and tell our stories.