Skip to content
Topics
Stories

Data tells a compelling story

The jour­nal­ists behind The Boston Globe’s “68 Blocks” series, which takes an in-​​depth look at life in the city’s Bowdoin-​​Geneva neigh­bor­hood, knew they wanted hard data to play a key role in their work. But they didn’t want the series to read like a run­down of facts and fig­ures, according to Steve Wilmsen, enter­prise editor for the Globe’s Metro sec­tion. “We wanted it to seem like a story,” he said.

Wilmsen and a team of Globe jour­nal­ists behind the series served as the keynote speakers at this year’s Data Day, an event held on Northeastern’s campus Friday and orga­nized by the Mass­a­chu­setts Area Plan­ning Council, the Boston Indi­ca­tors Project, and the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs. Their panel dis­cus­sion on how data fig­ured into the ground­breaking series kicked off a day of events for pol­i­cy­makers, researchers, and advo­cates aimed at teaching them how data can help guide and inform better public policy.

“Get­ting these num­bers was taxing,” said Maria Cramer, a crime reporter at the Globe, describing a gru­eling process that went far beyond simply requesting public infor­ma­tion from local offi­cials and city agen­cies. “We had to make calls, we had to set up meet­ings. There is the assump­tion that this data is simply acces­sible through a few key­strokes, but it’s a lot more com­pli­cated than that.”

Globe jour­nal­ists spent more than a year tracking down data on the Bowdoin-​​Geneva neigh­bor­hood from city, policy, and edu­ca­tion offi­cials. That infor­ma­tion played a huge role in the series and is now being made avail­able to out­side researchers, said Chris Marstall, the Globe’s cre­ative tech­nol­o­gist. Ryan Cordell, an assis­tant pro­fessor of English at North­eastern, recently led a team of dig­ital human­i­ties scholars and stu­dents to the new Globe Lab to learn more about how that data, and other infor­ma­tion col­lected by the newspaper’s reporters, can live on in the higher edu­ca­tion realm.

Stephanie Pol­lack, one of the event’s orga­nizers and the asso­ciate director of research in the Dukakis Center for Urban & Regional Policy, said Data Day is an impor­tant oppor­tu­nity to show­case the policy school’s com­mit­ment to con­tributing more than pure research.

“One thing that I think sep­a­rates our policy school from others is that we really engage in policy issues,” said Pol­lack, a leading expert on trans­porta­tion policy in Mass­a­chu­setts and across the nation. “We’re not just here to study policy. We’re here to make change.”

Fac­ulty mem­bers show­cased research at Data Day. During an after­noon panel dis­cus­sion, for example, Neenah Estrella-​​Luna, an assis­tant aca­d­emic spe­cialist in the Col­lege of Pro­fes­sional Studies, and doc­toral can­di­dates in the Law & Policy pro­gram dis­cussed how inter­views, doc­u­ments, and national data­bases could be used to address local and national policy issues.

Data plays a key role in public policy because it can be used to combat decision-​​makers who cherry-​​pick facts that best serve their own inter­ests, noted Marc Draisen, exec­u­tive director of the Mass­a­chu­setts Area Plan­ning Council. A strong com­mit­ment to sound data that is clearly pre­sented can help turn the tide against the par­ti­san­ship and dog­ma­tism that defines much of Amer­ican pol­i­tics today.

“Some­times we feel as if we are awash in data, but what we need to do is channel that data, put it together in an acces­sible form, and make sure people making deci­sions look at the num­bers,” Draisen said.

– By Matt Collette

More Stories

Photo of the Capitol Building at night

High stakes for politics, SCOTUS in 2018

01.04.2018
Photo of the crashed truck that was used in the October 31st attack in Manhattan.

Weaponizing Language: How the meaning of “allahu akbar” has been distorted

11.08.2017
Northeastern logo

Why I love studying Spanish

05.29.20
Uncategorized