CMS.631 | Spring 2017 | Undergraduate
Data Storytelling Studio: Climate Change
Assignments

BeeSmart (2017)

The BeeSmart final project video.

By Krithi Chandrakasan, Samuel Resnick, and two other MIT students. (Used with permission.)

Methodology

The USDA has been collecting data on the US honey bee population for the past several decades. It has been tracking the population of bees per state, the productivity per hive, and the price of honey. This data is available on the USDA.gov website in .txt form with a different page for each year. We cleaned it by grouping all the years together in one .csv file with columns according to: State, Colonies, YieldPColony, Production, StocksPricePound, ValueProduction, Year.

Upon first looking at the data there seemed to be random fluctuations in state’s honey bee population, except for one state, which consistently grew until it far surpassed all the others in honey productivity. This state is North Dakota. As soon as we saw this we became interested. Why did this state that is so rarely on our radar have such a significant growth in honey bee population relative to all the others? We started to do some additional research and began to see articles by beekeepers and conservationists saying that “North Dakota was the last best place to keep bees in America.” We found out that this is because the honey bee’s habitat has largely been destroyed across the rest of the country as prairies have been converted to farmland to product high yield cash crops. This loss of habitat due to farming and pesticide use has been given the name colony collapse disorder. Even North Dakota is not safe from this epidemic, however, and its own prairies are starting to shrink, seriously endangering the last of the American honey bee population. These prairies were once protected by the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), which protected natural grassland across the midwest, but as farmers learned that they could make more money by planting crops, the CRP has been slowly pushed back. There are several organizations working to sponsor the planting of wildflowers instead of cash crops in farm fields as well as encourage advocacy at the national level. Pheasants Forever is one of these organizations that operates in North Dakota, and is encouraging conservationists to sign a petition to expand the CRP this coming year. This organization is intending to spread across six other states in the midwest in the next year to help preserve the honey bees habitat. This issue is not only a matter of habitat preservation. Since the honeybee is responsible for pollinating most of America’s crops, the security of our food source is at stake. This is an issue that affects every single person living in America today, and that is why we need to tell the bee’s story.

This story is about a large scale issue that affects the entire US population, across all states, but it has its roots at a small scale level. Because of this, we determined that our story lent itself well to a zooming in, zooming out approach – similar to The Powers of Ten by Ray and Charles Eames. Additionally, the story has a central geographic theme since it is about the role of a single state in the welfare of the entire country. We therefore decided to tell our story by starting with a wide lens looking at the US bee population changes over the past few decades, then zooming in on North Dakota as an anomaly. We zoomed into a specific town, with a specific apiary, owned by a specific beekeeper, and took a look at a single hive of bees as we explained his story. We then started to zoom out as we told the reasons for the delicacy of the bee’s situation and how grave the problem could become. As we approached our initial viewing point, we left the viewer with a positive message knowing that they could help by signing this petition. The viewer finds him/herself in the same position as they started in but now with a deeper knowledge of a complex problem that affects them directly and with a resource at their fingertips through which to help the cause.

Impact

There were a few short term goals we had for this data story. First and foremost, we wanted to educate our audience on bee colony collapse and provide them with a new perspective on the issue. In addition we wanted them to understand that bees are one of the largest factors that impact our food security. As an immediate action step we hope that this video will motivate them to buy honey. In the medium term we hope that viewers will sign the petition. Finally, in the long term we hope that viewers will become strong supporters of legislation that preserves habitat.

For this data story we target young Americans both in and out of the midwest who are interested in conservation and are active on social media. While narratives like this one are often targeted at the more liberal community our story aims to cut across party lines. The organization Pheasants Forever which we promote within the story has bipartisan support, as many conservative hunters support the organization because it helps conservation and allows them to hunt pheasants.

In order to evaluate the effectiveness and impact of our data story we showed the video to farmers market patrons, beekeepers, and a North Dakota resident. We framed the start of the video with questions asking what the viewer thought was the most important factor that affects food production and which state the most honey bees live in. As a follow up to the video we asked if their answer to the first question had changed, if they had learned anything new about honey bees, and if they would be more willing to sign the petition supporting CRP(detailed Q&A given below). We then gave viewers a small strip of paper with the link to the CRP petition which served as the call to action.

Based on the results of our user testing it was clear that our short term goals were met. Most of the participants had predicted crop disease was the most important factor for food production, however after watching the video all but one participant changed their answer to bee colony collapse. Additionally, after watching the video it was clear that they had gained new perspective on the plight and importance of the honey bees and learned where geographically the problem was taking place. We also met our medium term goals, as all participants seemed very excited to receive the slip with information and said they would sign the petition when they had a chance. Finally, based on our user testing it is too early to know if we met our long term goal, however the positive responses we received are a good sign that viewers will care more about legislation preserving habitat in the future.

Overall, we believe that our data story addresses the very important topic of bee colony collapse with a powerful narrative, and both educates and motivates viewers to take action to help solve the problem.

Q&A

Before questions:

1. Which of these factors do you think affects food production the most?

  • Drought
  • Bee colony collapse
  • Global population increase
  • Crop diseases
  • GMO

2. Where do you think most honeybees in the US live? (Select state)

After questions:

3. After watching this video, does your answer to question 1 change?

  • Drought
  • Bee colony collapse
  • Global population increase
  • Crop diseases
  • GMO

4. Did you learn something new about honeybees in America?

  • Yes
  • No

5. After watching this video, if someone asked you to sign the petition would you be more willing to do so?

  • Yes
  • No

Testing Responses

Person 1: Middle aged man, a tender at one of the stalls.

  1. Crop Diseases.
  2. Arizona
  3. Same answers, still crop diseases.
  4. Yes
  5. Yes

Person 2: Young girl

  1. Bee colony collapse
  2. California
  3. Same answer, bee colony collapse.
  4. Yes, specially commenting that she didn’t know about North Dakota.
  5. Yes, I would already have, but certainly would sign it after seeing the video.

Person 3: Young girl

  1. Bee colony collapse
  2. Texas
  3. Same answer as 1.
  4. Yes, commenting as well about the fact that they didn’t know about ND.
  5. Yes.

Person 4: Young girl (Friends with Person 3)

  1. Crop disease
  2. (Where is somewhere warm…) Florida
  3. Yes, bees.
  4. Yes, commenting they didn’t know about ND.
  5. Yes

Person 5: Man, middle aged

  1. Crop disease
  2. California
  3. “Well, after seeing this video, clearly the bees are important”
  4. Yes, commenting they didn’t know about ND.
  5. Yes, however commented that “they doubt it would have any impact”
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Spring 2017
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