What story is the data telling us? We recognize that data — quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods — is only as powerful as the story behind it, and the ways in which key messages can resonate with and move audiences to take action.

What is a Data Story?

What story is the data telling us? We recognize that data — quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods — is only as powerful as the story behind it, and the ways in which key messages can 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.


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 focuses 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.

Data Story Methodology

The data story methodology follows a simple process with three key steps.

  • First, identify the challenge and why it is important, using qualitative and quantitative data. 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.

  • Next, use a positive 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.

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



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. Several months after launching the dashboard platform — Village Vital Signs — a community-driven workgroup began determining what data should be elevated by the dashboard and how that data should be collected, displayed, and accessed by the community.


This team worked on the ground, conducting outreach and brainstorming the steps necessary to collect relevant data and interpret it in a meaningful way. This group’s efforts came to fruition in the early fall of 2017, resulting in new collaborations between community members and improved processes for data collection and analysis. when a single interaction impacted one network member enough to catalyze new collaborations between community members and the process of data collection and analysis.

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 (Center 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.

  • Early Learning Alliance: Data Sharing (Early Learning Alliance): This website offers theories of change, logic models, and metrics for the family engagement, data and assessment, professional development, and governance areas developed by the Alliance team. The models specify community-level outcomes for initial, intermediate, and long-term time frames, and will be further modified as part of the ongoing work of the Alliance.

  • Communication for Social Change: An Integrated Model for Measuring the Process and Its Outcomes (Rockefeller Foundation): Part of the Communication for Social Change Working Paper Series, this working paper was developed by Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Communication Programs for the Rockefeller Foundation as part of their Communication for Social Change Grantmaking Strategy. This paper aims to refine the practice of communication for social change as part of a larger strategy to strengthen communication practices for social-change thinking and engagement.

  • City Health Dashboard: 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.

  • Strategic Narrative 101 Curriculum (Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society 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.


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