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 In Case Studies, Current Events, Data Journalism, Team

It’s that time of year again. We’re winding down projects and preparing to spend time with our friends and families. (Don’t worry, we’ve got plenty of big plans for the new year — especially where data education is concerned.) But before we all take a well-deserved break, let’s toast to some of the ways working with data made a difference in our world in 2017.

**Datassist will take a short holiday break from December 20 to January 3. We wish all you and yours the very best this season has to offer.**

The Ontario Syrian Refugee Resettlement Secretariat

I don’t think there’s anyone among us who hasn’t heard about the plight of Syrian refugees. Hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians have been forced from their homeland by a violent and deadly conflict. This year we assisted multiple Canadian government agencies (both provincial and federal) working with data to more accurately measure the impact of their resettlement efforts.

Helping refugees is about more than just counting them and tracking where they go.

Resettlement teams need to understand how different services and supports perform in helping Syrian refugees settle in Canada and integrate into their new homes. They need to collect new data and also leverage existing data to better understand trends in:

  • Housing
  • Employment
  • Social connections

Working with such large and complex organizations was a wonderful opportunity for us. We got to help design and build new measurement systems and explore how the many different support initiatives are working together. This project was recognized with a 2017 Amethyst Award for Outstanding Achievement in Group Service Excellence. But more importantly, it gave us the chance to help measurably improve people’s lives by working with data.

Orb Media’s Invisibles: The Plastic Inside Us

The scourge of plastics filling our land, sea, and air is another story that we all know about but struggle to act on. The Orb team hypothesized that a proliferation of microplastics could mean humans are even consuming waste plastic without knowing it — at serious risk to our health.

Learn how your nonprofit can start measuring impact in just 3 easy steps.

Orb teamed up with citizen scientists who collected water samples from around the globe and mailed them to a central science lab. Scientists analyzed the samples for the presence of microplastics to determine whether or not invisible plastic pollution had made it into drinking water supplies. Their conclusion: microplastics have indeed found their way into our bodies, from some very unexpected sources:

  • Synthetic fibres in laundry
  • Tire dust
  • Paint
  • Secondary microplastics
  • Synthetic fibres in the air
  • Microbeads

More than 80 percent of the samples collected (on five different continents) tested positive for the presence of plastic.

Datassist coordinated efforts between the many different actors in this project to ensure we could tell the data story in a meaningful, impactful way. Working with data on a project of this scope gave us the opportunity to help educate the public about a major global issue.

Crafting Data Stories Big Online Course

With the support of the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas, Datassist got to up our game from just working with data to teaching people around the world about working with data!

Hundreds of students from around the globe joined us for our six-week online course. We helped participants find and understand data, and turn analysis results into moving data stories. Data education has long been a high priority for our team. So we were thrilled to be able to provide students with support on:

  • Developing a “data frame of mind”
  • Locating and accessing datasets
  • Understanding what data really says
  • Experimenting with ways to communicate findings
  • Crafting a data story concept

We were able to have a direct impact on some serious issues with other projects this year. But Crafting Data Stories still ranks near the top as one of the most exciting things we did in 2017. Helping people around the world better understand their data and how to communicate it will have a ripple effect. Our students can take what they’ve learned and use it to make a difference in the world.

Happy Holidays!

We’d like to thank all of you — clients, partners, friends, readers — for being a part of our 2017. We hope you’ll continue to change the world by working with data in the coming year.

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Our new year’s resolution for 2018? To write better data biographies.