Extreme Makeover – Data Version

Scrolling through my Twitter feed this morning, I came across this:

Screen Shot 2017-03-30 at 10.43.34 AMThe way the data are displayed makes it unnecessarily difficult to draw the conclusion asserted in that post.  There’s a lot going on here, with colors and other features of the chart competing for our attention. E.g.,

  • What do the different colors mean? Is it significant that 2 columns are shades of grey and others are colors?
  • My eye is immediately drawn to the smallest and tallest columns, which also happen to be near the center, and beside each other. Also, why is that value label (66%)  IN the bar while the others are on top?
  • Why does the Y-axis just go to 70%?
  • Is the total column necessary info?

[If you like, you can read the Foundation’s blog post associated with this data]

I plopped the data into Excel and crafted this revision:

Full disclosure, I am a huge fan of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and it is (easily) arguable that advocacy for child and family issues would not be what it is without their Kids Count data. But in this particular case, the design of the graph they created does not help make the point they wish to make.

*From a framing perspective, I also question why it was deemed valuable to share these data in this way.  By calling attention to the low number of single-parent immigrant families (implicitly suggesting that’s a good thing), do these data inadvertently reinforce negative cultural stereotypes about single-parent families?

Do the data reinforce stereotypes about racial and ethnic groups also portrayed here?

Those are important questions to ask when presenting data.  It’s also important to consider whether these kinds of data presentations, by triggering stereotypes, make the conversation we should be having more difficult to have. Namely, with over 1/3 of all US children living in single-parent families, how well are policies and programs responding to the reality of life for families today?

My top 5 sites for FREE stock photos and icons

I’ve compiled a list of free stock photo and icon sites that have images appropriate for social issue advocates. It’s hard to find interesting and high quality stock photos for free, so bookmark these!

Stock photos

  1. Unsplash – Gorgeous, hi-res photos. Some highly conceptual. I love these because most are evocative of ideas.
  2. StockSnap – Just as the site says – beautiful free photos. I’m working on some transportation issues for a client so searched “transportation” and found 194 images.
  3. Negative Space – You’ll see a list of category names (landscape, people, business, etc.) along the left side of the page. If you use the search function and the site doesn’t have anything, it will search Shutterstock for you, which is a paid site.


Both of these sites are terrific, and have tens of thousands of free icons. The free downloads require an attribution, and each site explains their very simple attribution guidelines. To get royalty free versions, you can sign up for a  monthly membership, currently at $9.99 on either site, that you can cancel any time.

  • Flat Icon – I LOVE this site. Need a map icon? A ruler? A dollar sign? A gear? A thumbs up? You get my drift. Thousands of wonderful icons.
  • Noun Project – Here you can also download icons, and must give credit to the author if you download free versions. You can pay $1.99 to purchase royalty free versions.

Framing Addiction

With the opioid crisis affecting so many communities, my news and social media feeds have been increasingly populated with messaging about addiction from advocates and experts. In hopes of dispelling the dominant frames in public thinking about people with addiction as having made “bad choices,” and having insufficient “will” to recover, I see repeated assertions that “addiction is a disease.”

While true, many non-experts do not fully believe that addiction is a disease. So we must do more to explain the process of disease if we are to hope to change public understanding. Expanding the assertion by saying, e.g., that ‘addiction is a disease that involves altered functioning of the brain’s reward and motivation systems’¹ can be a huge help.

But of course, that’s not the whole story. So I’d like to point you to fabulous resources from The Alberta Family Wellness Initiative. They have put significant efforts into health promotion and disease prevention based on the neurobiology of addiction. They have been collaborating with The Frameworks Institute for many years on effective science translation messaging, as well. It’s really a terrific one-stop shop for both the science, and its translation to the public.

Hope this is helpful!


¹ See: Different Kinds of Addiction