Data Drama was a half day workshop with local young people from the city of Lahti in Finland. This project was led by the Lappeenranta-Lahti University of Technology (LUT), a pioneering science university in Finland, bringing together the fields of science and technology.
The purpose of the event was to encourage people to discover the history of their local lake, Vesijärvi, through data that had been collected from it in previous decades. This data came from past interventions and monitoring to improve the lake’s water quality.
The event was framed as an immersive drama experience where the young people helped a central character Näkkitär to make sense of the data and to imagine the city of Lahti in the future.
Lakes are an important part of Finnish culture and life. Since the 1970’s, the city of Lahti in Finland has been working hard to improve the quality of their local lake Vesijärvi. In the past, this was one of the most polluted lakes in Finland due to industrial activity and sewage.
Today this lake has very good water quality and is regularly monitored. However, it is important that local people understand the history of the lake so that mistakes are not repeated in the future.
Environmental data has for a long time played a part in urban planning processes. It can be used to draw attention to the negative impacts of proposed developments in nature. However, the usefulness of such data is only as good as people’s capability and willingness to make sense of it.
Data storytelling is a common technique for making data easier and more relatable to a general audience. Yet such approaches still place the audience in quite a passive role which may impact the depth of understanding gained from the data. LUT wanted to see if Data Drama could be more effective: creating a performance using data and inviting the audience to interact with it.
The Data Drama project used performance art to translate scientific findings about lake Vesijärvi’s water data into short activities which young people could participate in. The project brought together LUT researchers, artists, water data specialists, and local people.
This method was co-developed with Theatrum Olga, which is part of vocational education and training at Diakonia College of Finland, directed by Lasse Kantola.
Outcomes from the lake’s interventions and monitoring were communicated to the Data Drama participants using card games to make the information more accessible.
The first game was a speed data-ing game which communicated key information about the main ‘characters’ in the data, which were phosphorous and chlorophyll. These were the two main indicators of pollution.
In the second game, the data was curated into averages for each decade and remedial activities that had taken place in the decade were described on the card. Participants had to guess if the values would go up or down in future decades. The purpose was to identify trends in the data and use this to predict the future.
The card games were embedded into a performance where a character named Näkkitär visited from the future with concerns about the lake quality in the future. Since she could not read the data herself, she asked for the people in the room to help her.
Data Drama was part of the ParCos project, exploring how to communicate science to an audience in a way which invites their active participation and engagement. It showed that performance and interactivity can improve understanding of data and help to build empathy towards hidden concerns that the data is trying to reveal.
Data Drama started with an existing issue and explored it in more detail, rather than working with the community to identify a problem of shared concern. Usually, the Bristol Approach would aim to involve the community from the very beginning.