Evidence Matters Event Summary: A Matter of Facts – The Art of Translating Evidence

IFF’s Evidence Matters seminar series made a bright and colourful return last Thursday at the House of Illustration, King’s Cross with an evening of knowledge sharing and debate.

In the second of our Evidence Matters events we brought together an audience of policy and research professionals, senior decision makers and research commissioners to explore the challenges facing the world of research and analysis. Our speakers were tasked with looking at how we can overcome the scepticism around facts and better engage our audiences through the use of storytelling techniques and data visualisation.

IFF’s Rowan Foster chaired the event and kicked off proceedings by introducing the context that has seen us move into a post-factual world. The three key questions that our speakers were asked to address were:

1. How has our relationship with facts changed?
2. How can we use stories and/or data visualisation to engage people with facts and evidence?
3. What are the risks of using these techniques? Is simplifying content the same as dumbing down?

In this blog we give a summary of the presentations delivered by each of our speakers, sharing tips and advice from experts in the fields of storytelling, data visualisation and fact checking.

Patrick Worrall – Channel 4 News Fact Check

Patrick is an award-winning journalist, and lead writer and researcher for the Channel 4 News Fact check team.

Patrick has been a key commentator on Fake News and the concept of a post truth world and discussed how the blurred lines between facts and lies led to victories for Trump and Brexit in 2016.

He explained how a cynical view of journalists and ‘celebrity talking heads’ or experts has changed the way in which data and facts are consumed. Patrick went on to say that we must adapt or be left behind when it comes to the communication of facts or findings.

He shared some practical examples of how Channel 4 have been using educational, animated videos to engage an audience of 18-34 year olds, expanding their audience from tens of thousands of blog readers to millions of online viewers.

  • His advice to our audience was to: Be clear (get your key information across in the first screen and keep it succinct)
  • Forget about promoting personalities (focus on the content)
  • Take responsibility for stopping the flow of Fake News. Stop the momentum by fact checking sources before sharing content.

Robert Holtom – Narrative coach, writer and trainer

Our second speaker was Robert Holtom, a regular speaker on issues including storytelling, public engagement, facts and translating evidence.

Robert spoke eloquently about the power of storytelling and how stories engage emotions in a way that facts cannot.

His talk was based around a quote from Ursula Le Guin which stated:

“The soundest fact may fail or prevail in the style of its telling”.

Robert said we are humans not computers and that should be reflected in our outputs. We must have the imagination to challenge other’s views while also leaving room for empathy.

Caroline Florence – Founder, Insight Narrator

Caroline Florence is the founder of Insight Narrator and is passionate about turning evidence based insights into commercially relevant stories.

As a professional storytelling coach Caroline gave a crash course in data narration for effective storytelling providing a number of practical hints and tips along the way. She explained how there are three components of a story:

1. Empathy/emotion
2. Rational argument
3. Credibility

Caroline hailed the human element in storytelling and called for those of us who hide behind facts and data overload to step away from the computer and collaborate with other people.

She also outlined her ‘three post-it note challenge’, encouraging everyone to lift the key information from presentations by considering whether the message could be communicated in three post-it notes; one each for the heart, the brain, and one to focus on the credibility of information.

Robert Fry – Head of Data Visualisation at the Office for National Statistics.

A statistician by background, Robert is passionate about uncovering information and stories hidden in data through data visualisation techniques. This includes both static and interactive data visualisation for the web, with a focus on making data and messaging easy to understand.

Robert opened with a fascinating statistic: 49% of working age adults struggle with Level 1 numeracy. This really highlights how we need to ensure our outputs engage different groups in different ways and he went on to describe how ONS has been taking a proactive and personalised approach to creating outputs and statistics in an effort to make them more engaging.

Robert gave a walkthrough of some of the interactive online tools ONS has been using, such as their unpaid work calculator, which can be found here, and how tools like these can drive engagement with data.

Continuing the conversation…

We hope to continue the conversation and disseminate the content we have gathered as part of this seminar. We will be sharing videos of each speaker’s presentation via email next week so please feel free to pass these on to friends or colleagues who missed out on the evening. If you have any thoughts or opinions, please share them via our Twitter page @iffresearch using #EvidenceMatters.

Follow the link here to register your interest in our next event in November 2017.