“Dear Data” as Reflective Practice: Coffee Break Series

Evaluators love data! We at RK&A work hard to translate data into visualizations to clarify and communicate the essential ideas of the data. When I learned about the “Dear Data” project, I became inspired and suggested that we talk about it at one of our bi-weekly coffee breaks.

“Dear Data” is a project by designers Giorgia Lupi and Stefanie Posavec, who every week for a year, drew postcard-sized visualizations of data from their daily lives. They mailed their postcards to each other, developing a trans-Atlantic friendship via a “slow data transmission.” Lupi and Posavec see “Dear Data” as a “personal documentary” which uses data “to become more humane and connect with ourselves on a deeper level.”

In our discussion, we thought about whether drawing data might fit in with our work at RK&A. While the aesthetic quality of the postcards enamored us, we concluded that we are unlikely to produce something like this as part of our final reports and presentations, but this type of drawing could be a useful personal reflection exercise.

I wanted to test this out for myself. Since I’ve been working on building my creative writing habit, I decided to collect and measure data about my writing, and draw it in the style of “Dear Data.” My goal was to build a writing habit as the foundation for creative practice. I decided to track whether I wrote every day, how many words I wrote, and the type of writing I produced. After a few drafts, here’s what I came up with:

Much to my surprise, during that month, drawing my data changed my perception of my writing process. When I first started trying to establish my writing practice, I felt like I was preparing for a long, difficult hike in the woods. After creating this drawing, however, I saw some areas of my writing practice flourish, while others languished.

With this in mind, I looked at my drawing again. I mapped out what was going on in my life and my attitude toward writing, what prompted me to write most prolifically, and what contributed to writing streaks lasting several days. With a new layer of thinking, my drawing now looks like this:

I discovered, certain conditions are more conducive to sustaining my writing practice – for example, getting enough sleep and prioritizing my time. And, I generated new hypotheses about my writing to explore as I continue developing my practice (such as, if there is diversity in subject and genre, then I will be better able to sustain my interest).

Ultimately, I found value in slowing down and manually processing and documenting my writing practice as a dataset. Since then, I’ve used drawing to map out ideas or small data sets as part of my analytical work at RK&A. The shift in thinking calls to mind how processing information in multiple modalities has the possibility to deepen one’s understanding of information and strengthen one’s thinking, and it may change the way one see’s the data—as it did with me.

1 Response
  1. Madre

    Thank you for sharing! Seeing that others are okay recognizing they are a work in progress is good for me. I like how you went back and thoughtfully evaluated what was and wasn’t working for you. Thanks for the inspiration!

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