Let’s Put a Pin on It
Uncovering Perspectives with Interactive Physicalisation of Data
The physicalization of data in combination with elements of gamification can potentially be an effective way to captivate an audience  and to uncover their perspectives. This article presents Put a Pin on It, an interactive physical visualisation exhibited at the Agami Summit in November 2019 by Gramener’s Storylabs.
The Agami Summit is an annual gathering of changemakers in law and justice with the aim of sharing stories, ideas, and perspectives. This year the theme of the summit was “to touch, feel and shape the future of systems of law and justice” which fit well with the idea of an interactive physical visualisation. This was presented in the Data Room — a collective space for exploring how law and justice-related data can be visualised to create awareness.
India is a large and diverse country with a rapidly changing legal landscape. The country has over 700 subordinate courts, deploying a host of judges serving various roles. Subordinate courts are district-level judicial bodies that are often people’s first point of contact with the legal system.
An initial analysis of the data provided by Tata Trusts showed a wide gender disparity in the judicial bodies representing subordinate courts. For instance, one out of six subordinate courts in the country have no female judges. Rural areas showed a wider disparity: a higher and increasing count of male judges while female judges continue in the minority.
While this disparity is stark, it is hard to convey its gravity through plain numbers. It is important and useful to make the data concrete and tangible. Visualisations are a great way to communicate insights, but it is more engaging to involve the audience in a small activity around the data. In digital data visualisations using draw-your-own style charts — You Draw It: How Family Income Predicts Children’s College Chances by the New York Times and You draw the chart: How has life changed in 60 years? by the BBC — have been used with great effect to improve the engagement with the visualisation and recall of the facts presented. The main idea involves three steps: (1) Let the audience take a guess in an informal setting, (2) place their guess on a chart and (3) reveal the actual information at the end of the activity to match against their guess.
Extending this idea into a physical visualisation has additional advantages. Interacting with a visualisation piece in a group setting tends to spark valuable conversations around the data. The collective representation that was created has revealed frequent misunderstandings and prejudices shared among the group members. Moreover, participation was found to be much higher when the visualisation is presented in a playful group environment.
Questions were designed around interesting insights from the data. For each formulated question, a section of the visualisation was created to ask the question, lay out the possible answers, and present a grid for participants to mark their answers on.
Coloured board pins were used to indicate different answer choices. Here’s a breakdown of the questions and the encodings used.
- Question: Out of 702 subordinate courts in the country, how many have no female judges?
- Encoding: Single colored pins to mark the answer on an axis on a scale of 0 to 250.
- Question: Match the district to the criteria by selecting a pin of the corresponding color.
- Encoding: Pick the column corresponding to the number against your criteria and pin with marker representing the district corresponding to your answer.
- Question: Arrange these three districts in Karnataka in the increasing order of the percentage of female judges.
- Encoding: Each district corresponds to a colored pin. All six possible orders are presented as separate columns. Pick the column corresponding to your answer and place the pins accordingly.
Closed answer cards were created with the correct answers and related analysis. These cards were placed in a bowl next to the visualisation. Participants from the audience were allowed to pick a card and look at the answer at the end of the activity. A prompt at the front of the card was added as a reminder for the participants to not share the answers after finishing the puzzle.
Two elements of gamification, in particular, were incorporated in the visualisation. First, presenting questions as puzzles arranged in an increasing order of difficulty with feedback provided in the end. Second, exhibiting the visualisation in a social setting to both pique audience curiosity and create opportunities for triggering insightful conversations.
The use of pins to mark answers is particularly effective as marking a collective space with a pin has the positive effect of creating a personal bond with the piece: this is my answer, my pin, my contribution.
- While participants were a little apprehensive in the start, once they understood the questions and the encodings, they were curious to participate and figure out the right answers. The anonymity of the responses further encouraged more people to participate.
- The playful nature of the interaction was aimed at a mixed crowd, including professionals and students, irrespective of their age or experience. Even if the participants did not know the answers, they were willing to take a guess.
- The questions were arranged from easy to hard. Towards the end, as the participants placed their pins, their curiosity was so piqued that they wanted to know the answers.
- Looking at the answer cards evoked several reactions: getting the answers right led to a sense of accomplishment and confirmation, getting them wrong led to disbelief, followed by several discussions reasoning out the misconceptions.
Responses and misconceptions
- For the first question, a few responses marked either zero (believing it was the norm for all subordinate courts have female judges) or 250 (believing a large number of courts have any female judges).
- The third question was particularly interesting given that the event was held in Karnataka. Many people associated Ramanagara as a small, rural district in Karnataka and guessed it would have the lowest percentage of female judges, while the opposite is true. It was an element of surprise for the majority of the audience to also realise that Bengaluru, despite being the capital city has the least percentage of female judges.
Few participants shared their thoughts on the visualisation.
This exploration shows the possible effects (or better outcomes) of interactive elements in a physical visualisation. The audience engagement is particularly amplified when the visualisation becomes part of a collective space and presented in a playful environment.
“There is anecdotal evidence that physicalizations may aid individuals in engaging with and communicating information to others more effectively than with digital representations … The growing popularity of data physicalizations in many societal domains indicates a strong potential for fostering public engagement.”
Storylabs at Gramener is an R&D space pushing boundaries to deliver data-driven stories you will cherish.