In our efforts to bring a derelict property back to life, we’ve slowly been transforming parts of the garden/yard. It involves a continually battle with stinging nettles, rabbits, squirrels and brambles. While digging up a small section recently, I broke a shovel while trying to remove a rock. In fact, many rocks. Truth be told, some are rocks, some chunks of concrete, bits of barbed wire, bits of other wire, lots of glass, roots, weeds, and pieces of ceramic. On the weekend we unearthed a bicycle!
While it can be very frustrating, each part tells us a story of history. We often use our ‘treasures’ (as the kids call them) to talk with our neighbours and learn the history of our place. Stories of what went on before us. And these stories lead to other stories in our little hamlet. We have a pub that dates back to 1350 so the hamlet has been around a while. This is the joy of place.
There is something similar about datasets. When you first start they can appear quite useless, even derelict. But then you start digging and find little gems of information. Sometimes you find harmful things like the shards of glass we find in the earth. But even those tell a story. Sometimes you even find a bicycle that’s been lying there for decades and decades. And the gems, the harms, and yes the bicycles too, allow you to connect one dataset with another to tell a bigger story, a richer one, a mosaic.
Here’s the thing – stories, like data, are not inherently good or bad, but they also are not neutral. This is one of the reason why it is important to treat datasets about people (anonymous or not) sensitively and with care. It is becoming easier and easier to piece together different stories found in data, unearthing gems long lying dormant. They call it the mosaic effect.
As for us, we’ll keep digging, who knows what we’ll find next.
If you are interested in telling better stories, Seth and Bernadette are running their story skills workshop again – check it out.