On Friday, June 23rd, we convened the second of our 2017 CT Data Days conference series. Following up on the success of "Equip" back in March, this time, we organized a conference around the theme, "Synthesize." Issues related to data collection and analysis are perrenial challenges for many of our users. To respond to this need, we organized several panels focused on using data to tell stories and strategizing around how to collect new data for use in their work. 

Over 100 people gathered at the Omni Hotel in New Haven for a morning of learning and networking. Attendees chose between two sets of breakout sessions. In the first series of breakout sessions, attendees split up to hear from a panel of local journalists about data storytelling and from a panel of researchers about the state of the state budget. We heard some important takeaways from the journalists about the importance of filtering a clear and simple story for your readers. As Stephen Busemeyer of the Hartford Courant put it, "Avoid kitchen sink syndrome." Jake Kara and Jacqueline Rabe Thomas from the CT Mirror offered advice about using data to check assumptions and about being truthful in your analysis. Moderator, Mark Oppenheimer, advised participants to engage with the media when they don't have a story to share to start forging relationships and sharing their data.

Next door, Robert Santy of InformCT moderated the "Re-Imagining the State Budget" panel. First, Derek Thomas of Connecticut Voices for Children provided an overview of the state budget and the budget proposals currently in circulation at the capitol. Then Sarah Ficenec of the Connecticut Economic Resource Center presented a possible new direction for the state: outcome-based budgeting. Santy closed the panel with an impassioned plea to attendees to urge their legislators to adopt a new vision for the future of the state.

In the second series of breakout sessions, attendees chose between two panels, "Data-Driven Decision Making" and "Where Do Data Come From?" The "Data-Driven" panel featured three speakers explaining the way that they do "data-driven" in their work. Kathryn Gonnerman of the Jewish Community Foundation described their inaugural study of the Jewish population in Greater Hartford. Spencer Hill of the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities explained the benefit of data-driven decision making in serving citizens bringing complaints to their office. And Jeana Bracey of the Child Health and Development Institute described the impact of the long-term, School Based Diversion Initiative. Each panelist brought a new perspective to identifying specific priorities and using information to drive decisions about those priorities. 

In "Where Do Data Come From," panelists, Emmanuel Adero from Connecticut Association of Human Services, Karyn Backus of CT Department of Public Health and Michael Polzella of the CT Department of Labor each explained some of the unique challenges with data collection and modifying your analytical plans when data simply do not exist. Data Collaborative Executive Director, Michelle Riordan-Nold, moderated the panel and provided context regarding the next Census collection in 2020.

After an engaging morning of learning, we heard from our keynote speaker, Alvin Chang. Chang is not a stranger to Connecticut as he was part of the team that started TrendCT at the CT Mirror. He is currently a Senior Graphics Reporter for Vox.com and he has adopted a creative way of communicating data: cartoons. So in his talk, "Why I Use Cartoons To Tell Stories," he challenged the audience to consider the way readers learn new information and how to creatively synthesize information to reach them. He captured an important sentiment that many attendees have been feeling: data-driven decision making has come under attack and we are in an era when good rhetoric seems to be an acceptable substitution for data and evidence. Because data describes invisible things and because visualization of data has become popular and expected, we have to synthesize information to push readers to ask questions and be curious. Chang provided some entertaining examples of his own design choices and helped the audience understand how they can use basic tools to achieve simple and meaningful results in their data synthesis. 

We look forward to closing out this series with our final installment, Mobilize with Data, on Tuesday, November 7th at the Hartford Public Library. We have posted conference materials to our website. Look for updates about future events and opportunities by joining our mailing list!

Thank you to panelists, moderators and presenters:

  • Emmanuel Adero, Connecticut Association for Human Services
  • Karyn Backus, CT Department of Public Health
  • Jeana Bracey, Child Health and Development Institute
  • Stephen Busemeyer, Hartford Courant
  • Alvin Chang, Vox.com
  • Sarah Ficenec, Connecticut Economic Resource Center
  • Kathryn Gonnerman, Jewish Community Foundation
  • Spencer Hill, Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities
  • Jake Kara, CT Mirror
  • Mark Oppenheimer, Yale Journalism Initiative
  • Michael Polzella, CT Department of Labor
  • Robert Santy, InformCT
  • Derek Thomas, Connecticut Voices for Children
  • Jacqueline Rabe Thomas, Ct Mirror