Lessons Learned at #eval11 Visual Data and Stakeholder Engagement

I have always been comfortable working with numbers. Mix that with my eagerness to learn new software packages and develop some level of programming experience and you will find someone whose career has led him down a mostly quantitative path. Methods though, should not be dictated by experience and comfort but rather the questions you are trying to answer. As such I am always trying to expand my understanding of other methods, even if not directly related to any work I am currently undertaking.

At the conference, I attended a session on Using Data to Engage Stakeholders in a Community Assessment of a Place Based Initiative. In it they focused on a two very hands-on visual methods, asset mapping and participatory photography.

With asset mapping, they brought together a number of community stakeholders and put them in a room with a number of large maps on tables. Groups of stakeholders stood around maps and were instructed to place stickers where they would find key community assets. Eventually all of these physical pieces would be brought together to create a single digital map. Beyond the physical product they created an environment where community members had the opportunity to come together and discuss their communities.

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Another topic of discussion was participatory photography. With this method, they gave each participant a camera, then sent them back home asking them to take pictures that describe their communities. Ultimately, all of these participants would be brought back together to talk about the pictures they had taken and choose ones that best describe their community.

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The lesson here is pretty simple, sometimes visualization has only very little to do with technology.  Stickers, paper, and cameras can be used to create some pretty compelling visualization.  Not to mention that the process of visualizing the information can also be powerful in its own right.

I think this will be my last lesson learned from #eval11. I have a large number of cartoons just waiting to be posted/discussed. I also have an idea for a new type of online presentation. Thank you to everyone who has been commenting. It’s always fun when the expertise in the comments trumps the expertise of the blogger 🙂