Signals Blog

A fundamental (and obvious) truth about knowledge translation (KT) is that if you want your work to have impact, it needs to be engaging. A viral video reaches thousands or millions of people; a boring, complex, badly produced video reaches a handful of people (your family, closest friends and some colleagues. Maybe a curious ex.)

Knowledge translation usually involves synthesizing and sharing data; the challenge is in making that sexy. Fortunately, data dissemination has undergone a makeover and it looks nothing like its former self. Yes, people still use bar graphs and pie charts to communicate data, but the options have been upgraded from the reliable station wagon to the Ferrari.

I attended a wonderful panel discussion called “Visualizing data: Storytelling in a sea of information” at the Science Writers and Communicators of Canada 46th Annual Conference this week. The panelists – artist and data visualization consultant Julia Krolik, CBC journalist David McKie, and math and stats assistant professor Shirley Mills of Carleton University – were knowledgeable and informative. I came away from the session appreciating that when you use data, it’s essential to highlight the number or key figure that you want your audience to remember as the takeaway. Or in communications terms, it’s your key message or call to action. Moderator Douglas Keddy, Western University, reminded us not to make your data visualization “too pretty” as that can hide the message. Again, reinforcing the point that you need to accentuate the most important data.

The next day, I went to a session on “Journalism in the age of open data.” The point was made that data are mostly boring and we need storytellers to bring the data to life. Facts are dry and KT needs to be interesting, meaningful and relevant, or funny, for policy-makers and receptors to take notice and react to and/or adopt results and findings. Check out Ushahidi, for a successful example of a data platform that is helping people in violent and desperate situations around the world.

Here’s Hans Rosling making global health statistics fascinating by animating the data – and reaching almost 8 million viewers (at the time of this posting).



Our regular feature, Right Turn, appears every Friday and we invite you to submit your own blog to info(at) We encourage you to be creative and use the right (!) side of your brain. We dare you to make us laugh! Right Turn features cartoons, photos, videos and other content to amuse, educate and encourage discussion.

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Stacey Johnson

Stacey Johnson

For almost 20 years, Stacey has been providing strategic communications counsel to government, corporate, technology and health organizations. Prior to that, Stacey was at the CTV Television Network, first as a researcher, then as a story producer for “Goldhawk Fights Back,” a special ombudsman segment that aired weekly on the National News and Canada AM. Before joining CCRM as the Director, Communications and Marketing, Stacey was the Director of Communications for the Canadian Arthritis Network. Stacey is editor of Signals. You can follow Stacey on Twitter @msstaceyerin.