On September 14, 2021 Dr. Anna Feigenbaum, Dr. Alexandra Alberda, Shannon McDavitt and Professor Julian McDougall will present findings from our AHRC project at the Digital Inclusion Policy and Research Conference. The DIPRC 2021 international conference brings together policymakers and academic researchers to explore the effects of the pandemic on digital literacy—and of digital literacy on the pandemic. Our team will be discussing the role that comics can play in fostering data literacy around public health messages.
During COVID-19 our pandemic lives became deeply entwined with health data and data visualizations. From instructional hand-washing infographics, to calls to ‘flatten the curve,’ data visualisations were telling us how to live, and predicting our possible futures. How we make sense of this data and the visualisation of public health, and our own meaning-making practices in this information environment, raises important questions for what it now means to be literate.
Alongside authorial information graphics produced by the world’s biggest health organisations and newspapers, citizens and artists also leveraged data visualisation conventions to create their own artistic representations of public health messages, often making them more approachable, accessible and relatable.
Tackling everything from understanding the significance of rising R numbers, to appropriate methods of mask wearing, to being on guard for misinformation, these amateur ‘data comics’ were shared across social media to thousands of followers each day. At their best, these comics amplified public health messages, increased information comprehension, helped prompt behaviour change and foster social empathy.
In this presentation we share preliminary findings from our UKRI/AHRC COVID-19 Rapid Response grant ‘Comics in the time of COVID-19’ drawing lessons from a sample of over 15,000 coded web-comics distributed on Instagram between March 2020 and March 2021. Our analysis looks both at artistic and storytelling elements in these web-comics, as well as at approaches to health, media and information literacies in order to inform best practice among a range of key stakeholders.
Supported by this large-scale, evidence-based analysis, we argue that integrating data and comics in ways that humanise health experiences can be a powerful tool for enhancing public health communications, understanding the literacy repertories citizens now need to interpret media, information and data and the benefits of this new knowledge for improving health equity.
I am a writer, researcher, teacher and workshop leader specialising in data storytelling for civic good. From digging into dusty archives to data visualising absent deaths, I am drawn to the difficult, the messy, the ethically challenging questions that exist around the edges of debates over how we tell stories with science and data. As a consultant and trainer, I collaborate with charities, NGOs, Public Health organisations, investigative journalists and other researchers to explore empathetic and effective ways to tell data stories. I believe that it is often those without access to big budgets and fancy tools that hold the data stories we most need to change the world.