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What story is the data telling us? We recognize that data — quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods — is only as powerful as the stories behind it.

Why Data Stories?

What story is the data telling us? We recognize that data — quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods — is only as powerful as the stories behind it. When equity is placed at the forefront, stories and key messages can elevate communities’ strengths, potential, and desires in ways that resonate with and move audiences to take action.


Community-driven data collection, analysis, and communication can serve as powerful tools for system transformation, from conveying a community’s vision for health and equity, to effectively evaluating programs, to acting as a direct intervention to improve the health of young children.


NOW believes in a “solution-finding” approach — as opposed to a problem-solving approach — including data collection and analysis that supports the use of assets- and strengths-based data. This capacity building arena involves ongoing internal work within coalitions to build consensus around use of existing data, linking data systems and sharing information, developing meaningful and feasible methods of data collection, and identifying shared metrics and indicators to capture progress, movement, and outcomes.

What is Data Storytelling?

During the NOW Strategic Planning process, Children’s HealthWatch, in conjunction with Vital Village and other NOW partners, developed a “Data Story” Methodology to develop communities’ abilities to articulate their stories in compelling ways to move progress, action, and transformation.

 A “data story” serves as a tool for positive change by translating information into a compelling narrative, often tailored to a specific audience. It occurs when a community develops an intentional narrative around why policies, practices, and programs are needed to rise above a particular challenge, using narrative strategies that illustrate a process or historical trend, describe relationships and structures, or make the case for a key message or ask. Data stories focus on solutions that communities have found and developed rather than describing the problems themselves. Data stories can be utilized as an intervention and used to evaluate community progress.


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To learn more about data storytelling, visit the archive page for our April 30 webinar on Operationalizing Equity through Participatory Data Storytelling, the first webinar in our 2020 series, Learning and Transforming Together: Community-Centered Equity Practices. This interactive session that delved into why equity matters for data storytelling, discuss strategies for data visualization and participatory processes, featuring Vital Village’s Community Housing Data Tool and Child Wellbeing Tracker.




When the Vital Village Network (VVN) was being created, the strategic planning team envisioned a publicly shared data dashboard that would showcase relevant benchmarks for child wellbeing and function as a tool for community engagement. Since the 2017 launch of the  dashboard platform — Village Vital Signs — a number of community-driven data workgroups have formed around key focus areas, such as food access and housing, determining what data should be elevated by the dashboard and how that data should be collected, displayed, and accessed by the community.


As a part of the Village Vital Signs, the Community Housing Data Tool was developed to provide information and resources to individuals, families, and organizations interested in learning more about the state of housing in Boston communities. It was co-created with the Community Data Workgroup, a diverse team of individual residents and organizational community partners, who provides valuable direction in forming the framework and topics in the Data Tool.


Building on guidance from the Community Data Workgroup, the Data Tool intends to make housing information and resources accessible to Boston families, with a focus on topics that residents identified as most relevant.

Getting Started: Data Story Methodology

The data story methodology follows a simple process with three components:

  • Use of both qualitative and quantitative data to identify the challenge and why it is important. For example, data can be used to define and describe why a given issue is important to healthy weight and how it impacts child wellbeing.

  • Positive, strengths-based framing that moves from a deficit model to an actionable platform to design a data story. For example, data can be reframed with “bright spots” to develop data stories that spur program changes to promote child wellbeing.

  • Participatory,  community-engaged and iterative processes, to refine the data to frame the research in ways that move the dial toward programmatic and policy solutions and systems-level change.

Applying an Equity Lens to Data

How Can We Effectively Use Data in a Way to Bring Attention to Inequity Problems?


As Data Story Methodology explains, quantitative and qualitative data can be used to identify an important issue. When a data story aims to address a racial, health, and socioeconomic inequity issue, how can we effectively use data in a way to bring attention to inequity problems? Applying an equity lens to data use could be one strategy. For quantitative data, disaggregating data by race and/or geography can reveal hidden patterns in data. For example, the average maternal mortality ratio per 10,000 live births for the entire population does not show whether there is a disparity among different racial and ethnic groups in the data. If the data can be disaggregated by race and ethnicity, we can observe if there is a disparity and how large that disparity is in certain health outcomes, which will allow us to identify an issue of racial inequity in such health outcomes.


Disaggregating data geographically also allows us to observe spatial disparities. Let’s say we have data of annual prevalence of young children with estimated confirmed blood lead levels at the county and census tract level. If you intend to explore distribution of children’s blood lead levels at the neighborhood level, the census tract level data will be helpful while the county level data masks the underlying patterns in the data at a more granular level by only showing the county average.


An equity lens can be applied to qualitative data as well. Using a community-driven participatory process when collecting stories from the community is an example. Community residents who are affected by inequitable health outcomes or access to resources and services can be invited to determine what type of data or story would be shared, why it would be shared, and how it would be shared, based on the needs and feedback from the local community. Collecting stories that residents identify as most relevant can be considered as a way to operationalize equity within data sharing efforts particularly when there is no relevant publicly available data to highlight a specific inequity issue of interest for the community.

Featured Tools and Resources

Highlighted below are some useful resources and tools to build a deeper understanding of data stories, different types of narratives, interactive data tools, and strategies for communicating with diverse stakeholders and policymakers.

  • Re:Imagining Change (Center for Story Based Strategy): This tool focuses on how to use story-based strategies to win campaigns, build movements, and change the world.

  • Story-Based Strategy 101 (CCenter for Story Based Strategy): This two-page document provides an overview of story-based strategy, walking you through the steps of analysis and strategic work to sharpen the impact of your narrative interventions.

  • Connecting the Dots: Strategic Storytelling for Policy Change (Allison Bovell-Ammon, Children's HealthWatch): Presentation by Children’s HealthWatch at Urban College class on advocacy. The presentation focuses on ways to engage different levels of storytelling in policy contexts.

  • City Health Dashboard (NYU Langone Health): CityHealth Dashboard provides 36 health measures for the 500 largest cities, including social and economic factors, physical environment, health behaviors, health outcomes, and clinical care. Equipped with these data, local leaders have a clearer picture of the challenges facing their communities and how to address them.

  • Blueprint for Belonging Curriculum (Othering and Belonging Institute at UC Berkeley): The Blueprint for Belonging (B4B) network has published a curriculum on strategic narrative to support the political development of staff and grassroots leaders. The curriculum is comprised of modules designed to build the capacity of people in the social justice movement to analyze and strategize using the B4B framework for strategic narrative.

  • Real Food Media: Real Food Media (RFM) is a women-led organization that uses a wide range of communications tools, including videos, radio, podcasts, social media, public speaking, and storytelling, to promote food system transformation. Based in Chicago, Minneapolis, and the San Francisco Bay Area, RFM focuses on “de-virtualizing” — participating in events and movements in the communities where we live.

  • Metrics for Healthy Communities (Building Healthy Places Network): Designed with cross-sector collaboration in mind, Metrics for Healthy Communities is a site to get you started in planning for and measuring the impact of initiatives developed to improve community health and well-being, especially cross-sector initiatives. You'll find tools to help define goals, identify appropriate measures to inform progress over time, and use available data. This site can serve as a resource for measuring the impacts of community development and health initiatives.

  • MeasureUp (Building Healthy Places Network): MeasureUp is a microsite of resources and tools to help you measure and describe a program’s impact on families and communities and on factors related to health. MeasureUp provides examples, tools, and resources to help you make your case, without having to become an economist.

  • Powering Health Equity Action with Online Data Tools: 10 Design Principles (Ángel Ross, Policy Link, Ecotrust): This report outlines 10 design principles on the process of building online data tools that strengthen community-driven efforts towards achieving health equity.

  • Data As A Tool For Change (Spark Policy Institute): A guide on the process of using data for change. Includes sections on asking and answering questions, interpreting data, presenting data, and using results.

  • Digital Storytelling (Tessa Lewin): This article discusses Digital Storytelling, a participatory methodology that can be used as a process to catalyze change through workshops where storytellers develop narratives with photographs, usually with a film as a final product

  • Advancing Better Outcomes for All Children: Reporting Data Using A Racial Equity Lens (Annie E. Casey Foundation): This resource serves as a guide to presenting data in ways that are inclusive and advance racial equity for all children.

  • Storytelling: A Tool for Health Advocacy (Rebecca Kahn, BA, and Jewlya Lynn, PhD, Spark Policy Institute): This brief offers guidance on the internal elements of a story that move people to action by outlining how elements can increase or decrease the ability to persuade various audiences and how health advocates can choose a story that can potentially do the most to move a particular audience.

  • Data Visualization and Health Equity Best Practices Checklist (Partners for Family Health Louisiana): Developed by the Bureau of Family Health Data to Action Team, this Data Visualization and Health Equity Best Practices Checklist aims to help health equity advocates, practitioners, and partners guide the development of communication materials that can present equity-related data in a responsible, reflective and representative manner.


Equity Tools
Development &
Community Engagement
Planning for Sustainability
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