Perspective Media: Personalised Video Storytelling for Data Engagement

Lead Research Organisation: University of York
Department Name: Theatre Film and TV


An unprecedented amount of data exists about our lives, environments and the people we share them with. The devices (e.g. phones, smart thermostats and even cars) and organisations (e.g. councils, supermarkets) we interact with on a daily basis, record and store ever more information about things we do and care about. By empowering large numbers of people to access and interpret this data, we can transform the way we understand and make decisions about key aspects of our lives (e.g. health and energy use) and have a greater say in how we are treated by the government and other groups.

We can access an increasing amount of this data by downloading it from our devices or other places like our local council's website. However, being able to get data does not necessarily mean we are able to understand it. Interpreting raw data files requires special software and techniques that most of us are not trained to use. Websites and apps that let us access and browse data in more accessible forms like graphs and infographics can help many people, but still are not right for everyone. Some people do not have the educational background needed to understand these forms of presentation, and others struggle to interpret what the facts and trends they show mean in the context of their lives. Equally importantly, many of us will not find seeking out and browsing data displayed in these ways an enjoyable and enriching way to spend our time - and might miss out on benefits of understanding our data as a result.

This project will pioneer a new way for presenting data to the public that a large and diverse section of the population will be able to, and equally crucially, want to use. We propose that this can be achieved by creating personalised video stories that tell us how our data relates to our lives and the people around us. We call this new form Perspective Media. Imagine a documentary about climate change that uses a personalised narrative structure and graphics based on data from your smart meter to show specific and achievable ways to improve your carbon footprint. Building on the skilled craft of video storytelling (e.g. from TV) to present a personalised perspective on data will allow us to provide an easier route for many people to understand how large and complex data sources relate to their lives. Basing our approach on a highly popular media format like video, with a diverse range of genres, will mean that large numbers of people from different backgrounds will enjoy using it to engage with their data.

Current ways of making video content assume that stories are fixed and linear, with the same information shown to everyone in the same order. Perspective Media, on the other hand, will show each viewer a personalised story about their data. For this reason, new ways of telling video stories that respond to data will need to be developed. These new approaches will, in turn, require new tools and technologies for creating content and delivering it to viewers. The aim of this research is to lay the foundations for these developments by: 1) investigating a range of techniques for presenting data in personalised video story form; 2) analysing the processes and tools that are currently used to make video stories to see how they need to be changed and extended; and 3) exploring how users experience video stories that are personalised to their data, and whether they truly offer a more inclusive and enjoyable way for people to engage with data.

We will achieve this aim by bringing together people with expertise in media production and data analytics with technology designers, to create prototypes of personalised video stories based on data. By analysing these prototypes, and how they are made and received by audiences, we will inform future research into production tools and technologies for Perspective Media and encourage the growth of a community of people in the media industry who create it.

Planned Impact

We anticipate that the research will have impact in three key areas: the media industry, people who are not motivated or otherwise able to engage with data, and policymakers and organisations that aim to support more inclusive data engagement:

1) The media industry: our findings will lay the foundations for the development of high-quality video stories that are personalised to viewer data by the media industry. The UK television industry is facing the test of responding to opportunities and challenges posed by new online and digital content forms. At the heart of these challenges is an increasing viewer appetite for interactivity and personalisation in the consumption of video media. The BBC has told us that developing new object-based approaches, such as those explored in this project, is central to their strategy for responding to these developments. By providing knowledge that will equip the BBC and other organisations to produce a new, innovative and disruptive form of object-based video content, the project will support the UK television and film industry in responding to this challenge and, therefore, retaining it's world leading position and the economic value it brings (e.g. £10.8bn of GVA in 2014 and international sales in excess of £1.2bn in 2014/15). The capability to produce personalised video stories that motivate and enable a broad spectrum of people to gain personal and societal benefits from understanding their data also has the potential to be particularly beneficial for UK broadcasters with a public service remit, including our project partner the BBC. The direct involvement of media industry partners (BBC, Catherine Allen) in the project's co-design activities will provide an immediate knowledge transfer channel to industry during the project. Impact across a broader range of media industry partners will also be facilitated through two dissemination events.

2) The public: the overarching aim of the Perspective Media approach is to equip a broer and more diverse range of people to understand and, therefore, act in response to the data that exists about them in modern society. Previous research has argued that greater public engagement with data can provide people with significant benefits including improved diet, fitness, mental and physical health, resource use and increased civic participation and involvement in decision-making. By laying the foundations for the production of video stories that can motivate and enable larger numbers of people to understand their data, the project has the potential to have a profound impact on the lives of UK citizens; in particular amongst excluded groups who may not have the requisite educational background or skills to engage with existing forms of data presentation. The deployment of a refined content prototype that provides an accessible and entertaining lens on its viewers' data via the BBC's Taster platform will provide a direct route for immediate social impact amongst a large public audience.

3) Policymakers: motivating policymakers and organisations that aim to support data engagement amongst a broader section of the population to explore the Perspective Media approach (potentially through the collaborative commissioning of content with the media industry) is key to our strategy for facilitating social impact at scale. Our partner the City of York Council will be central to our efforts in this area. Working closely with this organisation during the co-design activities will provide a direct route by which project outcomes can influence local government policy on public access and engagement with data. The PI will seek to facilitate broader policy impact by leveraging connections with high profile policy organisations (e.g. our partners the Open Data Institute and the Digital Catapult) and attending government events, particularly relating to open data policy, to promote awareness of project outcomes and their policy implications at a national level.


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