How to tell high-impact stories through data visualizations

Oct 26, 2023

About the Event

On October 24, a new session of the Community of Practice on Data-driven Communication (COP), an initiative created by Cepei and PARIS21, together with the national statistical offices (NSOs) of Latin America and the Caribbean, was held.

The event discussed how to generate stories with data through visualizations capable of conveying complex messages to different types of audiences and generating an impact on society.


Nelly Luna, director and co-founder of the investigative media Ojo Público, from Peru, and Juan Camilo González, visual artist and professor at the Center for Studies in Journalism, CEPER, of the University of the Andes (Colombia) shared, their experiences and practical advices on how to visualize large databases, an increasingly important issue in times where truthful and evidence-based information is necessary for transparency, decision-making, and faster problem-solving.

Juan Camilo González stated that in order to achieve effective communication, first step is develop a sensitivity for data, and understand that behind them there are people, experiences, and situations of daily life that have value in the real world. From there, Nelly Luna said, it is necessary to “interview them, interact with them to decipher the best way to visualize them. It’s almost like street reporting, but this is done in the digital world.”

The need to understand who is being talked to was also mentioned since there is currently more than one audience, and therefore, more than one way of consuming content on the Internet. For this reason, Luna stated that it is important to think about formats since it is not the same to generate a graphic as a video or an illustration.

Regarding the visual strategies, the journalist said that the ones that have had the greatest impact on Ojo Público are those that maintain the simplicity of the publications. Bar graphs, for example, continue to be effective in communicating data. This does not mean that complex visualizations are useless, but “many times the simplest thing is the hardest thing to do because it involves chewing up a lot of information and putting it in a way that anyone can understand.”

One of the points that González mentioned about the purpose of generating this type of content is to make available to society a huge amount of data that often remains unused. In this way, information is democratized and anyone is invited to use it for their projects, guaranteeing that these will be based on a curated database. 

Finally, the two guests opened the doors for the NSOs to get closer to the academic and journalistic world to develop products that promote equity and citizen participation based on statistical information.


PARIS21 also shared five recommendations for leveraging data to create high-impact visualizations:

1.  Let the data speak and develop the key message based on data analysis.

2.  Use data, rates, and ratios to help the audience understand the data comparison.

3.  Arrange the data with intent in a way that shows the main themes you want to highlight.

4.  Choose the simplest option that conveys a clear message to the non-technical audience (avoid using 3D, lots of colors, and complicated graphics).

5.  Avoid stereotypes when linking color palettes and iconography.

Community of Practice on Data-Driven Communications in Latin America and the Caribbean

Cepei and PARIS21 identified that NSO communication experts did not have their own space for peer-to-peer exchange. The Cop provides a learning platform to strengthen communication skills and bring data closer to decision-makers. 


Currently, ten NSOs in the region are members of the Community: Argentina, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Dominican Republic, and Uruguay. Other countries are expected to join this initiative to strengthen the regional network and exchange common challenges regarding timely and effective data communication.


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