Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Narrative patterns for data stories

Thanks to Maarten Lambrechts I've (re)discovered NAPA Cards, an initiative deriving from a workshop on data-driven storytelling in Dagstuhl, Germany. I wrote “re” because this project is discussed at length in Chapter 5 of the book Data-Driven Storytelling, which I read a while ago; I had forgotten about its website.

NAPA Cards is reminiscent of a classic article by Edward Segel and Jeff Heer, “Narrative Visualization: Telling Stories with Data”, and a follow-up comment by Philip Man, in the sense that it tries to come up with a taxonomy of data-driven stories. There's also this recent article by the data team at the Financial Times open-sourcing some story formats they commonly use.

The authors of the chapter in Data-Driven Storytelling focus instead on patterns, which they define like this:
A narrative pattern is a low-level narrative device that serves a specific intent. A pattern can be used individually or in combination with others to give form to a story.
Therefore, a single story can use multiple patterns based on “the data, the formal setting, or the particular audience and its assumed background knowledge.”

The choice of patterns depends on the intent of the designer: “Examples of narrative intents range from enlightening audiences, to evoking empathic response, to engaging them to take action, or to questioning their beliefs and behavior,” in addition to more specific ones such as “delivering convincing arguments backed with data, explaining a type or data, and sensitizing people to their existence and power, or simply educating an easily targeted online audience.”

I haven't been able to find the full chapter online, so I recommend that you get Data-Driven Storytelling, as the NAPA Cards website is much more useful when paired with it —and with the other chapters in the book, which cover topics such as ethics, interaction, and audience analysis.