Data Murals- Germination

I described the data murals project to a friend yesterday and she was the first person who actually understood the idea right away!  She said, “you mean infographics on the wall?” and I said “Yes! That’s it!” She already loves infographics, and she was even more excited about the data murals than about the kind of infographics you tend to see online or in newspapers because the local data that we use will be “community-evolved” and the whole process will be community-engaged.  And of course, then we’ll end up with a piece of public art that can continue conversations beyond the painting and be changed or updated over time.

We’re still in the early planning stages of two data mural projects. Both are with collaboratives of organizations from the same community.  The wonderful part about having so many organizations involved is that we’ll have plenty of people to participate in the design sessions and help with the painting, but the hard part is organizing everyone during the planning stages, and helping them figure out what data to give us for the project.  The project is still a little bit hard for some people to understand. Since we don’t have any completed examples of data murals we can’t yet show people a picture of one, and since each one will be based on different information and designed by different people, even showing them one wouldn’t necessarily tell them what theirs will end up looking like.  For me, that’s the exciting part, but some people very understandably have trouble jumping on board and giving up work hours for a project where the final product isn’t easy to imagine.

We’ve applied for a few different sources of funding and we already have some hours and some dollars promised by the MIT Center for Civic Media.  Applying for funding was helpful in moving a few pieces of the project forward. It forced us to develop a draft timeline, encouraged us to specify a budget, and encouraged us to define a strong evaluation plan.

Since evaluation is something that I love, this part of the planning isn’t a struggle, but we’ll still have to think carefully as we design the actual evaluation instruments.  At this point we plan to use a pre-post test for participants in the “story-finding” and design stages, to see whether their comfort with data increases, and we plan to collect basic demographics about the participants in the process.  We’re also planning a final unveiling and public discussion of the completed mural. That will be an opportunity for us to capture feedback about the image, hear people’s thoughts about the issue that the mural explores, and hear their thoughts about how the data is presented.  We’ll ask participants and the public some general questions at the end about what they thought of the project and how it can be improved in the future.  As a way to find out whether the murals spark ongoing dialogue about or consideration of the issue that they explore, as well as to capture ongoing information about responses to the data, we will try to include a section of the mural location that is painted with blackboard paint. It will include a painted question that encourages people to reflect on the mural in writing.  We’ll leave chalk onsite for passers-by to share their thoughts, and we’ll photograph the comments at least once a week for a few months.  Although I’ve never seen chalkboard paint used as a way to capture evaluation data, it has been used creatively and wonderfully in murals by Candy Chang (