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Visual Storytelling applied in Statistical eXplorerstorytelling

Storytelling, in our context, is about telling a story on the subject of statistics data and related analytics reasoning about how gained knowledge was achieved. Storytelling within this participative web context, could more engagingly draw the user into exciting reflections and sometimes change a perspective altogether.  Based on the 4Ws concept “What-When-Where-Why” encourage the user to “tell a good-story and tell it well” avoiding boring statistics presentations.

The story is placed in the hands of those who need it, e.g. policy and decision makers, teachers (VISE Project) but also the informed citizens. This dynamic visual storytelling is a way of telling stories through interactive web-enabled statistical visualization with integrated snapshots highlighting important discoveries. Stories enable a leap in understanding by the audience so as to grasp how statistical indicators may influence our society. Discoveries that more engagingly draw us into reflections about the gained knowledge on how life is lived - and can be improved - from region to region and in addition let the reader dynamically participate in this web enabled process  

Storytelling is achieved through a mechanism in our Statistics eXplorer (see figure below) that supports the storage of interactive events in an analytical reasoning process through “memorized interactive visualization views” or “snapshots” that can be captured at any time during an explorative analytics process and becomes an important task of a web-based storytelling authoring analytical reasoning process where discoveries can be linked into any online document using hyperlinks and applied in combination of the enormous amount of collaboration infrastructure available on the web. 


World StorytellingFigure: Statistical eXplorer users can develop interactive educational material based on the 4Ws concept “What-When-Where-Why” encouraging “tell a good-story and tell it well” avoiding boring statistics presentations. 

Storytelling is one of the most impactful ways to teach, learn, and persuade. As social creatures, we love telling stories and sharing them in a good laugh with others. It doesn’t matter how dry or boring the subject inherently is. If someone can tell a good story, others will listen and enjoy it. Analytics visualization experts are challenged to elicit a strong engagement and wonder in our stories stimulating the readers’ curiosity making them want to learn more and convey a deeper meaning. The same is true with statistical data. Numbers may look deceptively boring if you see them in black and white rows and columns. But if you see statistical numbers represented in colourful, visual views and can interact with the visualizations to find meaning – and, even better, if a good story about the numbers is included, these numbers can become most interesting and engaging.

  • An engaging and compelling story should contribute to the following features:
  • Match the pace of the audience’s ability to follow them;
  • Hold the audience’s attention with interesting visualization views, snapshots and metadata;
  • Leave a lasting impression by stimulating a user’s curiosity and making him/her want to learn more and express a deeper meaning;
  • Contribute to collaboration by communicating engaging interactive visual content;

In this context, NCVA introduced in 2008 geovisual analytics software Statistics eXplorer for Adobe/Flash with integrated storytelling applied to large spatial-temporal statistical data by means of dynamic visual user interfaces and its increasing role in worldwide collaboration, communication and education.

Storytelling loopFigure: Statistics eXplorer analytical storytelling loop – A Story with snapshots and metadata is created in a Story Editor – The Story is saved and can be shared with colleagues to reach consensus – A Story can be distributed and imported again into eXplorer. Users with diverse backgrounds and expertise participate in a creative discovery processes that transform statistical data into knowledge. This knowledge exchange process develops a shared understanding with other statisticians and, after consensus has been reached, it can be shared through publishing. A snapshot mechanism (see below) helps the author of a story to highlight data views of particular interest, and subsequently guide others to important visual discoveries.


Statistics eXplorer facilitates a process to support means of capture, add descriptive text, save, packaging and sharing the discovery and results of a geovisual analytics process in a series of snapshots to create a "Story". When the button "Capture" in the Story Editor is pressed, the state of each view in Statistics eXplorer is saved together with user-defined metatext. Before closing the application, the user exports the story into a XML formatted file. Team members can through descriptive text combined with interactive visualization follow the analyst's way of logical reasoning by loading selected stories. At any time a team member can access stories and apply them in Statistics eXplorer. A comprehensive story in the context of a remote collaborative sense-making activity can thus be created by the analyst through a set of linked snapshots. Users will discuss relevant issues through storytelling based on solid evidence, thus raising awareness and increasing the common knowledge on a certain phenomenon. 


Snapshot and Story Editor

When exploring and making sense of, for example, comprehensive statistics data, we need a coherent cognitive workspace to hang our discoveries on for organizing and navigating our thoughts. Our "GAV Flash" toolkit includes such means by capturing saving and packaging the results of an exploration “gain insight” process in a series of “snapshots” that could help the analyst to highlight views of particular interest and subsequently guide other analysts to follow important discoveries. The snapshot tool creates a single or a continuous series (story) of visualization captures during the exploration process. In a typical scenario the analyst has selected relevant attributes, time step (temporal data), data items-of-interest, color class values, filter conditions for selected attributes and finally highlights the “discovery” from a certain angle (viewing properties).

Before the actual capture is done, the user navigates, for example, the map view to a particular country, select indicators for the scatter plot, select time step. A new view such as PCP can be added to the story etc. A “Capture” is made and all preferred states are saved. When the story later is read, hyperlinks can be initiated and the application will display the state-of-the-snapshots.

Hyperlinks that instantiate snapshots and is associative descriptive text represent a central feature in our storytelling mechanism. These could guide the reader in the analyst’s way of thinking. While it’s true that a picture is often worth a thousand words, sometimes a few words and a snapshot provide the difference between a pretty picture and understanding. This focus on publishing through assisted content creation with emphasis on visualization and metadata represents a novel advantage of our storytelling.


Story Editor Explanation


The author creates a single or discrete series of captures during the explorative process by selecting relevant indicators, regions-of-interest, colour schema, filter conditions focusing on the data-of-interest, or a time step for temporal statistics. Associated explanatory text provides a richer functionality than simple metatext by allowing the reader to click on key words and learn about topics in the story. A story hyperlink is a reference in the story metatext that links to an external URL web site or a captured snapshot. To insert a hyperlink in the metatext the text is selected and a button “Link” is made visible and two options appear: a) new capture (snapshot) or b) link to an external URL.  

Before the actual capture is done, the user navigates the map view to a particular region, select indicator, select indicators for the scatter plot, and select time step. A “Capture” is made and all preferred states are saved. When the story is read subsequently, hyperlinks can be initiated and Statistics eXplorer will display the state-of-the-snapshots. Hyperlinks that instantiate a state in the eXplorer application are a central feature of the storytelling mechanism, with associated descriptive metatext that can guide the reader (see red text in figure Story Editor above).  A few words and a snapshot can provide the difference between a pretty picture and understanding.



Figure:The snapshot mechanism scans through all active views and save all active states.


Snapshot menu

The snapshot list contains all the snapshots taken in the current chapter. Each snapshot can be renamed, recaptured and deleted. The exception to this is the "Initial View" that is the initial state the current chapter will start in when you load it. This state can only be recaptured . Select a snapshot in the list and the text that are linked to this snapshot are highlighted in the chapter text. This works both ways. 



Publisher - Vislet from a Story produced with World eXplorerPublisher

Statistics Publisher is a server tool that imports a story, selects a layout and visualization tools and then generates the HTML5 code that represents the Vislet.  First, the user selects an appropriate visual representation for the Vislet e.g. map, scatter plot, parallel axes, table lens or time graph. Then the size of the Vislet window with metadata is set and Publisher generates the HTML5 code. This code is manually copied and embedded into a web page. The Vislet can then be opened in the user’s Web browser and dynamically communicate the story. A Publisher server maintains the Vislet flash (swf) files with a story repository, statistical data and, if required, regional shape maps. The Vislets run locally in the client’s Web Browser and can therefore achieve interactive performance.

A Vislet is a standalone HTML5 widget assembled from low-level functional visualization components in our toolkit (class library). A Vislet may be represented by a single or composite time-linked scatter plot and time graph view. A Vislet facilitates the translation of selected detailed statistics data into heterogeneous and communicative sense-making news.  It also integrates metadata and dynamic embedded animated visualizations that can engage the user. See interactive Vislet below embedded into this web site.


storytelling loop world

Below is an explanation of a typical Vislet functions:

World StorytellingFigure: Example of an interactive educational Vislet based on public World dataBank indicators and educational text, map, scatter plot, bar chart with fish eye technique, snapshots and time series – the methodological concept. For an interactive experience of the educational tool and teaching material see the interactive Vislet below;


Figure: An interactive Vislet produced with World eXplorer and Publisher. Use zoom tools in the map view - click on a country and see highlights in the other views, try the Fish Eye technique in the bar chart and different indicators in the scatter plot. The story text has embedded snapshots. Click on them or the numbers.

See also Demonstrator: http://ncvademo-mobile.blogspot.se/

Based on the idea of making use of both the knowledge of the statistics data as well as the related analytics reasoning process behind the knowledge discovery performed by statisticians, the storytelling web site describes seamless environment for production, presentation and dissemination of knowledge insights. Firstly, by providing a production environment for the visual exploration process with integrated methods for knowledge capture based on the snapshots technique, thus providing the analyst with methods to build on the analytical result during the course of the exploration process. Secondly, by integrating the captured snapshots into a story used for presentation where associated explanatory texts, hyperlinks and other metadata can be added providing a structure for guiding the reader in the knowledge building process. Finally, the web site contributes with existing methods for dissemination where the analyst can share the information with the intended audience using a Vislet. The usefulness of this seamless environment is  demonstrated through case-scenarios involving statisticians creating statistical news content sharing the knowledge discovery performed by statisticians. This environment has also been introduced in the form of visual storytelling within education VISE project to give educators innovative tools that can make national and regional statistics interactive, visually understandable and useable to the students

Page manager: mikael.jern@liu.se
Last updated: 2016-11-16