JOSHUA COHEN is a principal at Fat Pencil Studio.
Earlier this year I was pulled into a public debate about “enrollment balancing” and the future of neighborhood schools in N/NE Portland, also known as the Jefferson Cluster. My son’s elementary school was one of several considered for closure.
Between public meetings and private Facebook groups there were many passionate remarks from students, parents, teachers and administrators. Some focused on race and equity, while others were more concerned about budget, class size, or program quality. Of course, all these issues are related, but it’s easy to latch onto one of them and cherry-pick data to support a particular point of view.
My experience with public engagement is that a visual presentation of key issues delivers a more complete understanding to stakeholders, which in turn leads to a more balanced discussion and better solutions. With the help of several other parents from the Chief Joseph Bucket Brigade, I put together a series of data stories, designed to highlight the importance of some issues we felt were being left out of the discussion.
The graphics are simple: maps and bar charts. The response was interesting. I heard the Data Stories described as beautiful, insightful, even juicy. There were a few responses posted online. But the most important result was a noticeable shift in the public conversation that made it clear that our concerns were being heard and understood.