In this section, Rahul Bhargava discusses how using local materials in the data sculpture activity facilitates participant engagement.
One key experience in the Data Storytelling Studio is the making of data sculptures. I show up to class with a bunch of craft materials and a one page data handout with a bar chart, histogram, or pie chart about some topic (in Spring 2017 that topic was climate change). I tell students to think with their hands for five minutes and then, in pairs, build something with the craft materials that represents something they see in the data, such as a factoid or a comparison. I tell them they are not allowed to make a bar chart out of pipe cleaners! I encourage them to do something creative.
I write about this activity for other practitioners and include a list of recommended materials, such as pompoms, pipe cleaners, paper, scissors, construction paper, and googly eyes. A practitioner read about the activity and facilitated it with participants in Germany. The practitioner told me she had acquired craft materials from a neighborhood German Christmas market. She shared pictures. It was brilliant! The images captured a total oversight on my part: If you’re going somewhere to do this activity, get there a day early. Go to the local market and purchase local materials. Because then people will be working in a medium with which they are familiar and over which they have ownership.
I incorporated this lesson into my own teaching when I flew to Brazil to facilitate the activity. I arrived a day early and went to a market. I discovered they don’t sell pompoms in Brazil, which is a travesty because they’re a great building material. But I showed up to the workshop with materials familiar to participants. It was stuff they recognized from their childhoods and had in their homes. They were able to be much nimbler with the materials and to engage more deeply in the activity than they would have been had I shown up with pompoms.
I love hearing about how other practitioners localize the data storytelling activities. It helps inform my practice. I use whatever platform I have to amplify what others are doing so that we can all learn.