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How is Data Changing the Way We Tell Stories?

Data Stories Data culture Portraits

May 01, 2020

Reading time: 4 min

Lora

by

Lora

Access to data is changing the way in which we all work. Discover the third interview of our monthly series looking to capture the power of data at work. This time we sat down for a chat with Anna Scott, Content Strategist, Editor and Storyteller.

Name: Anna Scott

Profession: I’m a content strategist, editor and storyteller. In this capacity, I help organizations make sense of the data they collect or produce. 

What do your day-to-day professional activities look like? 

One of the things I like so much about my job is that it’s so varied. One day I’ll be working on a brief for some illustrations I’m commissioning to help bring a written report to life; the next I’ll be running a team workshop to help build a communications strategy. 

How would you define data?

There are lots of ways to define data. I’m most interested in going beyond what it means literally to what data can mean in terms of power, insight, collaboration, fairness and ethics. How a company collects, shares and benefits from data about its customers says a lot about its ethics more broadly. How much a government enables important data infrastructure to be maintained and made open, so people and organisations can innovate with it, is a good indicator of whether it’s fit for purpose. How far a charity protects the personal data of its vulnerable service users can make the difference between life or death. 

Data on its own does not amount much, but how it is collected, handled, analysed, shared, protected, combined or visualised can be extremely impactful.

How has the access to data changed the way in which you see your profession? 

The emphasis governments and private organizations put on data has created completely novel opportunities for us, storytellers. 

I develop novel, compelling ways of communicating complex research and ideas, usually about data. The intended impact always comes first, and then I help find the best means of achieving that.

In the past few years I’ve worked on graphic reports, books, newsletters, videos, illustrations, shadow-puppet performances, poems, art exhibitions and events. There’s an art to bringing the right people together – creatives, researchers, policy advisors, CEOs – and creating an enabling environment to work together to make great things. That is what I do best. I also research, advocate and train people on data rights and ethics issues, and provide personal coaching and content consultancy for busy professionals who want to write more and find their voice.

Have you always been data enthusiastic? 

I’ve been interested in data since I realised the difference that robust data could make to people’s lives. I saw this for the first time when I worked on the AidData programme during my internship at Development Initiatives about a decade ago. I then took a Masters degree in Human Rights and learned about some of the nuances of data – how it can be collected and used both in positive and harmful ways. This nuance has stuck with me throughout my career. 

As Head of Content at the Open Data Institute, I was responsible for the brand, and setting tone and narratives. I always had in mind the need for balance in celebrating the opportunity and benefits that data can bring, while being clear about the importance of ethics and addressing any harmful impacts. I became passionate about educating people about data ethics in particular, both through novel pieces of content – such as the Data Ethics Canvas – and as an ODI Registered Trainer in Data Ethics.

How do you incorporate data in your day-to-day professional activities?

I mainly talk and write about data, its value and its impacts (I am actually pretty basic when it comes to spreadsheets 🤷).

I think it’s vital to have ‘non-technical people’ like me heavily involved in researching and communicating about data. Data policy has a huge impact on people’s lives, so we need to make sure that diverse groups of people can meaningfully engage in conversations about it, and therefore hold governments and companies to account for how they use it. 

It’s not good enough to hide behind technical language; conversations about data and its impacts have to be made engaging and accessible enough for everyone to access, understand and contribute to.

Are you interested in learning about how data is changing the way we work?

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Data Stories Data culture Portraits

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