Data storytelling for SDGs actions

Isaac Agyei (left) of Joy News presenting a data story on Joy News TV.

The 2030 deadline for the sustainable development agenda is approaching and we need data to be disseminated without biases to measure progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Effective data communication is no longer a luxury and development stories need to be told with numbers to influence decisions and drive societal change. This brings to the fore the importance of data storytelling for decision-making and accountability. Yet, data is often presented in complex ways, inhibiting understanding and actions.

Capacity for data storytelling

I graduated with a degree in Statistics and Economics from the University of Ghana and was engaged by the Multimedia Group to help analyze Ghana’s 2020 elections results for Joy News. I was retained as a Data and Research Analyst because people like the visualized data but then I lacked the capacity to tell good stories with the data”, noted Isaac Kofi Agyei.

Like Isaac, many people including Journalists find it difficult to interpret and understand statistical information when presented in a complex way. The challenge often has to do with when audience are either overwhelmed with too much data, wrong data or insufficient data narratives.

Thanks to a 3-month intensive data storytelling certification course, today, reporters like Isaac are now able to synthesize and present data in a visually compelling way to present development issues in the most succinct manner across multimedia platforms. The course, run by the Ghana Institute of Journalism (GIJ) in partnerships with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Ghana Statistical Service (GSS), certified 40 journalists drawn from different media houses across Ghana in data storytelling. The aim was to equip Journalists with the requisite skills, with a particular focus on the three central elements of data storytelling - data, narratives, and visuals. This is to increase media advocacy on SDGs to ensure that public policies and interventions are data-driven for social changes.

The course was timely because I really needed the capacity. What I love most is my ability to now present data in an appropriate way and being able to pick and choose a good story angle from voluminous statistical documents for our TV, radio and online platforms”, Isaac stated.

The benefits outweigh the investment

Data offers an objective way of understanding the impact of different issues. For someone like Isaac, having the requisite training is not only helping him frame data into development stories for action, just like this climate change news report he produced and presented on TV. But the knowledge gained, he said, has also helped him create his own data repository for reference.

Moreover, the benefits of the empowerment, according to Isaac, are enormous. For him, the data storytelling course has exposed him to data visualization tools and equipped him to tell stories more effectively with data. His skills and speed of finding, mining and fact-checking data, and getting data from the right sources have significantly improved.

We have the right to information (RTI) law in Ghana and this law is to Journalists’ advantage but most of us didn’t know how to go about the process. Through the course, I learnt how to request for information using the RTI law, and this is helping in getting government information and data within 14 days maximum. I have used this law to get data to produce my stories”, Isaac revealed.

Partnerships can upscale impacts 

Isaac and his colleagues’ participants of the GIJ-UNDP-GSS data storytelling course are looking forward to more partnerships between the three partners and data think tanks like Bloomberg and other development partners to extend the course to intermediate and advance levels.

 “I am really looking forward to the next levels of the course for in-depth knowledge. If more Journalists can also be trained just like us, this will be good because the course was a real eye-opener and has helped me a lot”, noted Clara Mlaho of GBC.

Attaining the SDGs will improve the lives of all, and we can facilitate collective action if insights on the progress and the gaps are shared with everyone in a non-complex way. Data storytelling can facilitate efforts to turn data insights into actions and this can only be achieved if capacity is improved in partnership.

Isaac Agyei (left) of Joy News at the data story telling graduation ceremony at GIJ. On the right are his two colleagues from Multimedia, Ebenezer Sabutey (extreme right)- Joy News Business Reporter and Fred Smith, News Editor of Joy News in a group photo with Ms. Praise Nutakor, Head of Communications and Partnerships of UNDP Ghana.

Isaac Agyei (left) of Joy News granting the interview in his office at Multimedia.

@Ernestina Ocansey/ UNDPGhana

Clara Mlaho of GBC receiving her certificate after a successful completion of the data storytelling course.

Graduating Journalists with partners from UNDP, GIJ and GSS.