Making data mean more through storytelling | Ben Wellington | TEDxBroadway

TEDx Talks
20 Apr 201514:19
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TLDRBen Wellington, a data scientist and self-described 'data story teller,' shares his journey of merging data analysis with storytelling to make an impact. He discusses his experiences with NYC's Open Data Laws, his blog I QUANT NY, and how he used data to uncover insights about cycling accidents, pharmacy distribution, Citi Bike gender usage, and taxi patterns. Wellington emphasizes the importance of connecting with people's experiences, focusing on a single idea, keeping it simple, and leveraging one's unique knowledge to tell compelling data stories that can influence and improve city life.

  • 🌟 The speaker, Ben Wellington, accidentally became a data story teller, combining his background in data science and interest in urban planning.
  • πŸ™οΈ The Open Data Laws in New York City allowed public access to government data, sparking Wellington's interest in using this data for storytelling.
  • πŸš΄β€β™‚οΈ Wellington's blog, I QUANT NY, began with a map of cycling injuries in NYC, highlighting areas with more accidents and sparking media interest.
  • 🎭 The incorporation of improv comedy skills into data storytelling was a key factor in making complex data more engaging and understandable.
  • πŸ“Š In storytelling with data, it's important to connect with people's experiences, focus on a single idea, and keep the presentation simple.
  • 🚲 Analysis of Citi Bike data revealed gender disparities in usage, suggesting potential areas for urban planning and infrastructure improvements.
  • πŸ…ΏοΈ Wellington's analysis of parking ticket data showed geographic trends and highlighted the impact of out-of-state drivers in NYC.
  • πŸ“ˆ By focusing on data relevant to his audience, Wellington was able to make a tangible impact on city policies and public awareness.
  • πŸ’‘ Data storytelling can lead to real-world changes, as seen with Wellington's work influencing the MTA and the TLC to review their practices.
  • 🌐 The NYC open data portal is user-friendly, allowing anyone, regardless of technical expertise, to access and analyze data for storytelling.
  • πŸ“š Wellington's experience demonstrates that data storytelling is accessible and can be a powerful tool for anyone curious and willing to explore and share data-driven narratives.
Q & A
  • What is the term used to describe someone who tells stories with data?

    -A data story teller.

  • How did Ben Wellington unexpectedly become a data story teller?

    -Ben Wellington became a data story teller through his accidental combination of his work in data science at Two Sigma and his interest in urban planning, influenced by his wife's profession.

  • What significant legislation was signed by Mayor Bloomberg in NYC in 2011?

    -The Open Data Laws were signed by Mayor Bloomberg in 2011, allowing public access to data from City Government.

  • What is the name of the blog that Ben Wellington started?

    -Ben Wellington started a blog called I QUANT NY.

  • What was the first project Ben Wellington worked on for his blog?

    -The first project Ben Wellington worked on for his blog was a map of cycling injuries in New York City.

  • How did Ben Wellington's background in improv comedy influence his data storytelling?

    -Ben Wellington's background in improv comedy helped him connect with people's experiences, focus on a single idea, and keep his storytelling simple and relatable in his data analysis.

  • What was the surprising discovery Ben made about parking tickets in New York City?

    -Ben Wellington discovered that in half of the city cabs, tipping is calculated based on the fare and surcharge only, while in the other half, it includes taxes and tolls, leading to a significant difference in tip amounts.

  • What impact did Ben's analysis of fire hydrants and parking tickets have?

    -Ben's analysis led to the city reviewing and repainting a parking spot that had been incorrectly ticketed for years due to a disagreement between the Department of Transportation and the NYPD.

  • How did Ben Wellington's work influence the MTA's response to subway balance refills?

    -Ben's work revealed that it's impossible to get a $0.00 balance when refilling a subway card using the provided buttons. The MTA acknowledged this and said they would consider it in the next fare increase process.

  • What advice does Ben give to those who are interested in becoming data story tellers?

    -Ben advises to connect with people's experiences, focus on one simple idea, and explore topics that one knows well to become a data story teller.

  • How did Ben Wellington's work on Citi Bike data reveal insights about gender distribution among riders?

    -Ben's analysis of Citi Bike data showed that certain neighborhoods in New York City were male-dominated in terms of ridership, suggesting potential insights into transportation infrastructure and gender studies within the city.

πŸš€ Becoming a Data Story Teller

Ben Wellington introduces himself as a data story teller, a profession he stumbled upon. He shares his background in data science at Two Sigma and his connection to urban planning through his wife. The Open Data Laws in New York City, which made government data accessible to the public, sparked his interest in combining data science with urban planning. He started a blog, I QUANT NY, to explore and share his findings, beginning with a map of cycling injuries in NYC. His work gained attention from local and national media, leading him to ponder the power of storytelling in data analysis.

🎨 The Art of Data Storytelling

Ben discusses the importance of focusing on a single, simple idea in data storytelling, drawing parallels with improv comedy. He emphasizes the need to connect with people's experiences and to keep the analysis straightforward. By examining Citi Bike data through the lens of gender, he highlights the male-dominated usage in certain neighborhoods and the potential implications for city planning. He also explores the distribution of parking tickets to out-of-state vehicles, revealing patterns of travel within the city. Ben encourages everyone to explore data storytelling within their areas of expertise.

🌟 Impact Through Data

Ben shares his experiences of using data to make an impact on city policies and public awareness. He discusses his findings on the inequitable tipping system in NYC taxis and the excessive ticketing of certain fire hydrants due to city planning inconsistencies. His work led to responses from the MTA and the Department of Transportation, as well as changes in ticketing practices. Ben emphasizes the power of data storytelling to effect change and encourages everyone to engage with data to understand and improve their cities.

πŸ’‘Data Storyteller
A data storyteller is someone who uses data to create narratives that are engaging and informative. In the context of the video, Ben Wellington describes his journey of becoming a data storyteller, which involves using data to tell stories about urban planning and other aspects of city life. This concept is central to the video's theme of using data to understand and improve our world.
πŸ’‘Open Data Laws
Open Data Laws refer to legislation that mandates the release of government data to the public in a format that is easily accessible and understandable. In the video, the Open Data Laws in New York City are mentioned as a catalyst for Ben Wellington's work, as they allowed him to access and analyze data about the city that was previously not available to the public.
πŸ’‘Urban Planning
Urban planning is the process of designing and managing the built environment to achieve specific goals, such as improving the quality of life for residents. In the video, Ben Wellington's background in urban planning through his wife's profession influences his data storytelling, as he uses data to explore and analyze issues related to city life, such as cycling accidents and pharmacy distribution.
πŸ’‘Improv Comedy
Improv comedy, or improvisational comedy, is a form of theater where the actors spontaneously create dialogue and action without a script. In the video, Ben Wellington draws parallels between improv comedy and data storytelling, suggesting that the skills he learned from improv, such as connecting with audience experiences and focusing on a single idea, can enhance the way data is presented and understood.
πŸ’‘Citi Bike
Citi Bike is a bike-sharing system in New York City that allows users to rent bicycles for short periods. In the video, Ben Wellington uses Citi Bike data to map the gender distribution of riders, highlighting the disparity in male and female usage. This example illustrates how data from public services like Citi Bike can be used for storytelling and analysis.
πŸ’‘Gender Disparity
Gender disparity refers to the unequal representation or treatment of different genders in a particular context. In the video, Ben Wellington discusses how his analysis of Citi Bike data revealed a gender disparity, with certain neighborhoods having a significantly higher percentage of male riders than female riders. This concept is used to explore potential reasons behind the disparity and its implications for urban transportation and gender studies.
πŸ’‘Public Data
Public data refers to information that is collected, maintained, or produced by government entities and made available to the general public. In the video, Ben Wellington emphasizes the importance of public data in enabling individuals to analyze and understand various aspects of city life, from parking tickets to fire hydrant locations.
πŸ’‘Data Analysis
Data analysis is the process of inspecting, cleaning, transforming, and modeling data to extract useful information, draw conclusions, and support decision-making. In the video, Ben Wellington's work involves data analysis to uncover insights about New York City, such as the distribution of pharmacies, the patterns of cycling accidents, and the impact of certain urban features on parking ticket revenue.
In the context of the video, impact refers to the influence or effect that Ben Wellington's data analysis and storytelling have on public policy, city planning, and public awareness. By presenting his findings through his blog and other media, he aims to bring about positive changes in the way the city is managed and experienced by its residents.
πŸ’‘Data Literacy
Data literacy is the ability to understand, analyze, and argue with the help of data. In the video, Ben Wellington emphasizes that data literacy is not just for computer professionals but is accessible to anyone who is curious and willing to ask questions. His work demonstrates how understanding and using data can empower individuals to tell their own stories and contribute to public discourse.

Ben Wellington, a data story teller, shares his journey of accidentally becoming one through his work and interest in urban planning.

Open Data Laws in New York City, signed by Mayor Bloomberg in 2011, allowed public access to city government data, sparking Wellington's interest.

Wellington's blog, I QUANT NY, combines his data science background with his passion for urban planning, leading to insightful data visualizations.

His map of cycling injuries in NYC gained widespread attention, highlighting the power of data storytelling to engage the public.

Improv comedy unexpectedly plays a role in Wellington's data storytelling, teaching him to connect with audiences through relatable experiences.

Wellington's analysis of pharmacy distribution in NYC revealed the dominance of Duane Reade and the strategic expansion of CVS and Rite Aid.

Focusing on a single idea in data storytelling helps to convey messages more effectively, as demonstrated by Wellington's analysis of Citi Bike gender usage.

Simplicity is key in data storytelling; Wellington emphasizes using high school-level math to make data accessible and understandable.

Wellington's analysis of out-of-state parking tickets in NYC provided insights into travel patterns and the impact of tourism on different boroughs.

Exploring topics you know well is crucial in data storytelling, as it allows for deeper insights and more accurate analysis.

Wellington's work has had practical impacts, such as influencing the MTA to consider changes in their fare balance system.

His discovery of inequitable tipping systems in NYC taxis led to a review by the Taxi and Limousine Commission, showcasing the potential for data storytelling to effect change.

Mapping fire hydrants by the parking ticket revenue they generate revealed inequities in NYC's parking enforcement, leading to a response from the city.

Wellington's work demonstrates that data storytelling is not just for computer experts; anyone can use data to tell their own stories.

Students in Wellington's class at Pratt Institute used Excel, not complex programming, to analyze and visualize data, proving data storytelling's accessibility.

Wellington encourages everyone to see themselves as potential data story tellers, emphasizing the importance of curiosity and the desire to communicate effectively.

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