McDowell receives grant to help community organizations tell their stories

Kate McDowell
Kate McDowell, Associate Professor

Associate Professor Kate McDowell has received funding from the Center for Social and Behavioral Science Small Grant program at the University of Illinois to help community organizations tell more effective data stories.

The goal of the "Data Storytelling for Community Organizations" project is to develop and pilot a toolkit, based on the iSchool's Data Science Storytelling course (IS 590DST), to bring storytelling in information science to community organizations. The project will create a data storytelling kit for community organizations, position public libraries to distribute this toolkit, and support community organizations using the toolkit.

"Public libraries and nonprofit community organizations need data storytelling to keep up with a changing media landscape," said McDowell, who has been teaching storytelling at the iSchool since 2007. "Corporations have already begun incorporating aspects of data storytelling into their social media presence, advertising campaigns, and public engagement strategies. Data storytelling—especially as an extension of traditional storytelling within libraries—can help nonprofit organizations use the limited resources they have to connect with communities as 'audiences.'"

McDowell offers storytelling workshops to nonprofits, businesses, and universities. Her workshops for nonprofits combine the tools of storytelling with many areas, including fundraising, career preparation, business, and public service. Her current research project is Storytelling at Work.

The project's team includes McDowell (principal investigator); Assistant Professor Matt Turk, who co-teaches the data storytelling course; Assistant Professor Rachel M. Magee; and Teaching Assistant Professor Martin Wolske. Rounding out the team will be a research assistant, funded by the grant.

"The project will leverage pre-existing relationships established by the former Center for Digital Inclusion [formerly directed by Wolske] through library practicums, and by the Youth Services Community Engagement course (IS 490YS), which has, since 2012, placed master's students in community organizations to build bridges between their work and library services," said McDowell.

The pilot partners for the project will be The Urbana Free Library, as the pilot library site for publicizing and sharing the data storytelling toolkit, and The Idea Store, as the initial community site for distributing and enacting the toolkit.

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