Stories on Air
Creator | Service Design | Human Center Design
–– In collaboration with Lauren Atkins and Haijing Zhang.
Winner at Prized Solutions: Reimagining NYC, The New School Center for New York City Affairs.
How might we leverage NASA’s scientific big data with a community-based environmental justice organization’s (WeAct) storytelling content to make data more human-touched?
Stories on Air’ is an adaptable and portable story collection toolkit, accompanied by an online platform, using this mutual symbiotic relationship to link NASA’s air pollution data to Harlem’s community members’ stories on air pollution. It expands upon and reinforces story collection methods for community-based organizations to support sustainable change by empowering more citizens to use their voice to make a difference in the political process.
We recognized the tendency to be seduced by big data to establish validity when wanting to make an impact. In practice, the validity of science is questioned, and data can feel removed from our daily experiences.
Community-based organizations, such as WEACT, touch on the human element in the political process: they collect community members’ stories around issues where they want to make an impact and drive policy change. We believe in linking communities’ stories and data to build empathy and make data feel more ‘human,’ to ultimately, have an impact on policymakers. We also believe visualizing data can elicit these stories. We called this ‘datatelling.’ Technology to capture data has been, and is continuously, being improved upon, ‘datatelling’ keeps stories on par with constantly evolving data.
By using a human-centered approach, we began, both field- and secondary research. We spoke with Dr. Bruce G. Doddridge from NASA to obtain the information on the new NASA satellite Tempo and with Tenya M. Steele, PhD, Director of WeAct to gain a deeper understanding of how their organization works. We spoke with open governance experts and strategists operating in policy making to inform our process and to make it truly multidisciplinary. We gained a deeper understanding of community members’ perception of air quality and the roles air quality and air pollution play in their daily lives.
Based on the research, we started with a hunch that leveraging NASA’s scientific big data with a community-based environmental justice organization’s (WeAct) storytelling content will make data more human-touched. Our mission was to link big data from NASA’s satellite with WeAct’s testimonials to make an impact on policymakers.
To get a more in-depth understanding into WeAct, as a community-based organization, we completed a strategy map and a user-journey blueprint, to guide us in the best direction to determine our intervention space. One of the key insights we gathered was that WeAct’s collection of community members testimonials is a strong element in their effort to affect policymakers; however they lack a method of sustaining the story collection in an efficient way. We wanted to strengthen their storytelling component, increase their reach to a broader audience, and give the stories a deeper meaning.
Our concept then became; designing a systemic intervention to reinforce WeAct’s current story collection method and linking this to NASA data to enhance the validity of the stories, to ultimately leave a greater impact on policymakers. We also felt that there was a need to collect or archive the stories in an interactive way and addressed this with the online geotagging platform, by giving a collective voice to residents of Harlem by increased aggregation of local citizens’ stories.
Based on this concept, we conceived a toolkit as a catalyst to reinforce WeAct’s story collection and a website to sustain these stories.
The organization benefits from a holistic design solution from building the community awareness and engagement, to efficient and useful story-gathering, to presenting the stories for policymakers and allowing the stories to “stay”, we thereby designed various diverse assets, which are adaptive to each stage by using a human-centered approach.
The community members, by using our service, are being engaged in community-building and empowered in more interactive and immersive ways by listening to other community members’ stories and recording their own stories to have their voices heard and gain access to, knowledge and awareness of scientific NASA air pollution data on a local level through our web platform.
In the stakeholders level: Our service provides the organization an opportunity to reach and expose their agenda to a wider range of population, ones who don't necessarily have the time or the ability to engage with We Act community meetings and events. With the portable and dynamic story collecting toolkit, the organization can meet people outside of its natural habitat and extend its reach. By providing the geotagging service, we give the stories an external validation- strengthening the human experience with science in front of policymakers. This service can also be used by WeAct, in a “Kiosk” based hub service they are promoting and developing (as part of the Northern Manhattan Climate Action Plan), for community members to engage with, on the everyday level, and, in times of emergencies. The portable toolkit can also serve as an indicator for WEACT in determining possible locations for the “kiosk” based on the data received, it can assist in recruiting new members through a broader reach within the community and in hearing how people’s daily lives are affected by air pollution.
Community members: This service can impact the community in educating them along with giving them a voice. They are given a sense of agency by being involved in the political process, acting as citizen reporters on the online platform and have the opportunity to become WeAct members.
While we are privileged to have had the opportunity to learn and engage with the We Act organization, the nature of our service can be scaled up and is useful to other community-based organizations that rely on storytelling and data in any efforts they may pursue.
One specific example of how this could be scaled up to become an effective tool for other organizations’ is for the current ACLU of California campaign in attempting to collect health care stories to make an impact on healthcare policy. We see our design model being easily adapted to such efforts in many instances and disciplines.