Painting pictures with data: Emma’s year of adventure.

 

How’s this for a year’s project?

THE RULES:

  • Do something new each day

  • Do it with someone else

  • Document it

Pretty daunting, huh?

That’s why I’m not doing it. But Emma Lawton is. That’s incredible. What’s more incredible is that in 2013 at the age of 29, Emma was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. And, like so many people with Parkinson’s, she radiates a determination to focus on the things she can do more than the things she can’t.

Late last year Emma sent a call out at the Parkinson’s UK office to anyone who wanted to spend a lunchtime with her teaching her something. I wrote back and said she should come and geek out with me and Myuran over some analytics. She said yes. Hooray! A win for spreadsheets!

In prepping for Emma’s session, it was tricky to decide how to approach ‘analytics’ as a subject for an hour’s chat in a way that would do anything other than scratch the surface. It’s a vast topic that can easily get quite boring about stats if that’s not what a person is interested in. Instead of that, we did what we often do with clients and chose to focus on the person rather than the ‘data’. We took inspiration from Emma’s up front questions to us which were all about how important we regarded learning new things. Combining that idea with the knowledge that Emma’s own professional background includes design, we decided to play around with dataviz.

It turned out to be a fruitful starting point to ask Emma about her own project, regarding the year she was planning out and acting on as a potential dataset. She told us she had a planning spreadsheet that she was very proud of and would we like to see it (would we ever – hooray for spreadsheets!) Then we started asking questions. What did she really want to achieve by doing this? What kinds of stories would she want to be telling people? What pictures might she paint to illustrate those stories? What information might she collect that could form the material for those pictures if we thought of them as graphs or infographics?

Analysis can be defined as the summarising and visualising of information for the purpose of gaining insight.

Whilst Emma is writing a blog post for every activity filled with rich qualitative information about her experiences and thoughts on each, summarising and visualising the project as a whole after a year is more challenging based on reminiscence and journalling alone. That’s where data capture comes into play. By noting down a few pointers in a set format for every activity in a spreadsheet (hooray!), she can build material she can later mine for patterns, patterns she could draw. She could capture almost anything about her activities, but based around the ideas she gave us that the project was about people and about how doing this stuff made her feel, we kept focus there. The data capture includes names and dates, information on the activity, how the person she meets is connected to her and various measures of how she feels about the activity including how new, challenging and satisfying it was plus the brainwave of a dropdown list of emojis for overall feel.

Is this reductive? Yes.
Can we capture the richness of Emma’s emotional experiences with dropdown lists of ratings and emojis? No.
Might it allow the viewing of wood rather than trees? Yes.
Might it reveal something of her experience that might otherwise remain hidden? Yes.

Meeting, speaking and sharing ideas with Emma was a joy and I felt that in that hour we explored in microcosm what we do on any project with any client. We meet people where they are and focus on what they tell us is important to them. We then work with them to think of how data can be useful as a lens through which to look, not to the exclusion of other lenses, but in addition for the provision of a different angle.

I can’t wait to see what Emma’s year ends up looking like to her.

Catch Emma’s analytics blog post at the fuck it listAnd do explore the rest of her adventures. Perhaps there’s even something she could come and learn with you?

 

 

 

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