Beat the T! Biking Toward a Healthier Boston

Julia Appel, Iris Fung, Eric Lau

The data says that in Boston, more than 30% of work commuters depend on the T to get to work and that biking is a faster and healthier way to do it. Within city limits, biking often saves time when compared to the T. Furthermore, bike commuting helps Bostonians stay healthy and active, adding up to 50 minutes/day of moderate to vigorous activity with an average round-trip commute. Bikers can burn almost 400 calories per day this way! Still, only 1.9% of Bostonians commute to work by bike. We want to tell this story to encourage more people to reevaluate their commuting options, by creating an intervention in their daily routine encouraging them to bike – for their time and health.

To that end, we propose an interactive data game that is commissioned as a joint venture by the Boston Public Health Commission, Hubway system, and Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA). A stationary bike that looks like a Hubway bike will be installed onto various T station platforms.When the user begins pedaling, the game begins on the large screen in front of the stationary bike. For the purposes of this prototype, we are assuming that this bike is installed in the Brigham Circle T station and the user has chosen the Museum of Fine Arts, two stations along the E extension of the Green Line.

Our audience is the regular MBTA Green Line commuters who have not yet seriously considered other commuting options and may not even be aware of those available to them. The Green Line, in particular, is notorious for late trains, weather delays, and unexpected breakdowns. Furthermore, the Green Line covers areas that are easily bikeable, especially further away from the city. We envision a commuter standing on the station, with some time to kill as they are waiting for their train to arrive. The explicit invitations from the screen and implicit invitations from the empty bike seat entice the person to hop onto the stationary bike. They would then play the game, which would automatically start as they pedal. As they play, facts about biking, the T, and public health appear on the top-left corner of the screen, engaging not just the participant but also the surrounding audience. The data is drawn from a variety of sources, including the suggested Hubway 2011-2013 dataset; and annual statistics from the MBTA (2014 Ridership and Service Statistics) and National Institutes of Health. At the end, the benefits of biking are strongly emphasized by the fact that players are able to “arrive” at the destination station faster than if they had taken the T!

Our goals are to provide an immersive and informative experience to persuade people to reevaluate their own method of commuting and switch to biking for increased efficiency and fitness if it makes sense. We would like to ease their transition to becoming a Hubway member if they so choose. We have designed a receipt that will be printed out at the end of the game, with a code for a free Hubway ride if the player wins the game (i.e. beats the T). At that point, by choosing to hop onto the bike at the station to try and beat the T, the participant has already engaged in healthful, vigorous physical activity. Furthermore, with the receipt “reward” from the kiosk, they have a gratifying, persistent encouragement to become a Hubway member, speed up their daily commutes, and join the Hubway community in biking towards a healthier lifestyle for themselves and Boston as a whole.

So, can you beat the T?

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What is Immigration

By Maddie Kim, Andrew Mikofalvy, and Kenny Friedman

The Set Up

unnamed-2Life as a refugee is often extremely difficult, from having to leave your friends and relatives, to fear of persecution. Many factors that should not matter to the successful application to this country do make a difference on the likelihood of making it to the United States. As we’ve seen in the past, the US has more than enough resources to increase the number of refugees that it accepts. However, recent legislation is attempting to do the opposite. The Immigration and Border Security Subcommittee recently introduced an act to place further restrictions on refugees, making fewer resources available and lowering the annual accepted number of people.

unnamedWith this game, we hope to demonstrate the difficulty of refugees trying entering this country , and display how much harder it would be if this bill is passed. The game will be played outside of the Massachusetts State Capitol Building. Our audience is US citizens living in the Boston Area. We want people from around the area to see the game being played in close proximity to the offices of the representatives. Our call to action is to have players and observers call their local representatives and ask them to vote no on the Refugee Program Integrity Restoration Act. We also suggest the audience should alert their public officials of the current biases in refugee acceptance, and request updated anti-discrimination legislation. We begin the exhibition in Boston because we are local, however this game could easily be played in a similar manner in many cities around the country.

The Game

unnamed-1The objective of the game is to win by successfully applying for refuge to the United States. To begin the game, everyone stands in a line, a certain distance (scaled based on the size of the playing area) from the goal line. Each person is assigned a character, with a unique backstory (the backstory is written on a player card that they are handed). Then, the moderator asks the players a series of questions. Based on the answer to those questions, the player steps forward (closer to the goal line) or backward (further). After the questions have been asked, players fold their “player card” into a paper airplane. Players have 45 seconds to fold their paper airplane. Once the time is up, they must throw their airplane toward the goal line. Players whose plane passed the goal line “won” (a metaphor for successfully being allowed into the United States). Players whose plane did not pass the line lost the game (a metaphor for their application being rejected).

Game Metaphors / Evaluation

Every part of the of the game is a metaphor for the actual process. The characters are a distribution of people with different backgrounds that are looking to get into the country. The questions asked make it more or less difficult (based on the player background) for them to be successful. These questions are based on the biases that can be seen by looking at the admissions data for immigrants & refugees (see sources, below). The goal line represents an application that has been successfully processed, which allows the character to enter the country. The limited time to make the paper airplane is representative of the rushed feeling of quickly having to do something (such as leave your homeland).

Future Additions / Improvements

Future additions could have more questions and more players. However the current version does have all of the basic game mechanics needed to clearly get the message across. It would be interesting to play in a larger space, as well as involve the audience in the process in a more substantial manner.


The basic game mechanic (of stepping forward or backward based on questions), is based on a Buzzfeed video What is Privilege. The content, however, is quite different. And we’ve made significant additions to the actual game play.

In terms of the data, we focused our attention on the Homeland Security’s Immigration Statistics for 2013, the most recent year for which data is available.

Link to presentation

T-ventures: Personal Adventures on the T

By Aneesh Agrawal, Jane Coffrin, and Catherine Caruso

The data say that T riders have a lot of strong, different ideas, questions and feelings about the future of transportation in Boston, but there are many T riders who still are not making their voices heard. We want to tell this story because we love the city of Boston and want to make sure everyone has a say during the policy planning process. For example, the dataset GoBoston2030 collected last January during record snowfall has over 200 questions related to snow and inclement weather, making it clear that Boston transit needs modernization to handle the needs of citizens who weren’t able to make it to work. One respondent asked:

“If I don’t get to work, I don’t get paid. I don’t have a car and rely on the T. Is it possible to build/redesign a public transportation model that does NOT need to be shut completely down because of snow? When will the MBTA see management and operations that plan and prepare for the most common obstacles?”

Our audience is the citizens of Boston, both those who currently use public transit as well as those who will use public transportation in the future. Last January, the city of Boston launched the GoBoston2030 campaign, which aims to use citizen feedback to guide the planning process for the next 15 years of Boston’s transit system. Gathering continuous input is essential to making this process a success. Our goal is to engage our audience in conversation by getting them to tweet @GoBoston2030.

We started our data exploration with a list of over 5000 questions from Boston area residents compiled by GoBoston 2030. The questions have been categorized and broken down by station, making it easy to perform an initial analysis of the data.

Here’s a sampling of the question set:

  • What is the plan to update the T in the next 10 years?
  • Why can’t the T work like a ski lift? Constant flow of cars that slow to near stop on platforms for loading, keep moving to end of the platform, and immediately take off again for next stop. Then, a new car arrives just as the last one is leaving.
  • How can we make the T more affordable?
  • Will there be massage chairs on the bus and train?
  • How can we make the T more convenient for parents with strollers/young children?

Some of these are whimsical, while others are more pragmatic. The question database is a great starting point, but it’s fairly large and impersonal, so we wanted to put faces to the feedback. Although GoBoston2030’s initial data collection period is over, with their Action Plan scheduled to be released this summer we wanted to highlight how Boston citizens can continue to engage in the process in a simple way, and make their voices heard.

We gathered personal stories from local T riders via short interviews and compiled them into a short video, with the goal of building momentum for aggregating feedback that can extend to viewers. We used interview clips of feedback from real T riders to make our message more personable, and show our viewers that T riders are already making their voices heard, and they should do the same . A video is also a highly appropriate media format for GoBoston2030 to share directly on Twitter, which will help drive the call to action for riders to tweet back @GoBoston2030. Keeping the video short makes it more likely viewers will watch to the end of the video, and including humorous clips such as the doors closing on an unlucky rider helps build empathy and a connection with the audience.

This video could be a prototype for a series of short videos released periodically by GoBoston 2030 throughout the planning process. Follow up videos could include more interviews, longer interviews, and more parts of Boston’s public transportation system.

Comparing ‘The Counted’: A Juxtaposition of Two Police Cultures

By Kendra Pierre-Louis, Michael Drachkovitch, Jyotishka Biswas, and Tiffany Wang

The data say that in 2015, 1145 people were killed by the police in the United States. We wanted to tell this story because the question of how many people the police kill and who they kill has become a contentious issue. Our goal was to get people to think about the issue of police killings in a less inflammatory manner. Rather than frame the debate around culpability in individual cases, we wanted to raise the question of the broader culture in which those deaths take place.

With this goal in mind, we choose to target an audience comprised of citizens who were predisposed to think that the police are good, but haven’t thought about the issue too deeply. We choose to use a comic based on data from the Guardian and contrast it with data that on police killings in Iceland – a country that ranks 15th for gun ownership but has had only one killing in their 72 year history.

Comics are useful in kind of storytelling, because they provide a clear simple narrative that is both less threatening. Many people might look at a graph and either not be able to interpret the data or feel like it exaggerates the scale of the problem. The mix of visuals and text helps to keep the reader engaged while asking a fairly evocative question: doesn’t a six year old in the United States deserve the same level of compassion as an armed gunman in in Iceland?

Our call to action – asking for the reader to write their police chief to encourage them to support an open dialogue with their community about promoting more compassionate policing – is a safe, non-accusatory message pointed at a decision maker who can influence police culture.

How will commuting in Boston improve by 2030?

By: Katie Marlowe, Phillip Graham, Gary Burnett, and Felipe Lozano-Landinez

The data say that Boston’s transportation system will be more and more stressed in the future. At the same time, it is clear that there are many issues that commuters face today. We wanted to tell this story because it highlights the efforts that the Go Boston 2030 initiative is undertaking to create a better transportation system for the City of Boston and also encourages additional community involvement in the endeavor.

Our audience for this project is two-fold. On one end, our posters target the every day Boston commuter who is affected by the transportation consistently. On the other side, our presentation is geared towards the Go Boston 2030 leadership team, in the sense that we undertook this project as if we were communication consultants hired by the committee to establish a public dialogue and the presentation is our final meeting with the committee to present our deliverables, the posters.

Our two main goals for the project, enacted via the posters, are: 1) To let Boston’s commuters know that their concerns are being taken into account and 2) To encourage Boston’s commuters to engage with the Go Boston 2030 initiative.

We used two main data sets for this project. The first one was the “Responses to the GoBoston2030 campaign” categorized qualitative data set from Catherine D’Ignazio (provided via Rahul Bhargava), and the second one consisted of quantitative data from the Goals and Targets report from the Go Boston 2030 initiative (link here).

We decided that the most appropriate way to tell the data story would be through a human perspective that made each poster relatable to the average commuter that was also augmented with a few numbers to corroborate any explicit and implicit claims and show the seriousness of the Go Boston 2030s efforts. With this in mind, we found that the most effective way to achieve our two goals would be via both qualitative and quantitative data.

For each poster, the qualitative data introduces the concerns of a commuter from the Winter 2015 survey, creating a human and emotive rather than an abstract and un-relatable dialogue. Then, numerical data is used to corroborate the concerns, showing that the Go Boston 2030 initiative has looked into this. After, we provide a qualitative response from the Go Boston 2030 initiative to the qualitative data previously posed, and then provide numerical backing to show that the committee has thought through the issue at hand deeply and is setting goals and measuring progress rigorously. At the bottom of  each poster, we have a link so that the commuter can access additional information.

The qualitative data set from Catherine D’Ignazio was used for the qualitative data to help frame the dialogue of each poster, while the Go Boston 2030 Goals and Targets report was used for the quantitative data and Go Boston 2030 responses.

These posters are representative of what would be a larger poster campaign that has location-targeting for commuters. Each poster would be placed in the location where it is most likely to be read by a commuter that can highly relate to its story.

For example, our Access poster would be placed in the Alewife and Malden T stations, to directly address the commuters that are positively affected by the planned change.

Efficient Commute

Similarly, we would place our Safety poster near bike “parking lots” in the city and Hubway stations.

Bike Lanes

And as a final example, we would place our Reliability poster in T and bus stations/stops throughout the city.

Late Train

Food for good: how to feed America with what we already have.

By Andrew Mikofalvy, Julia Appel, Kalki Seksaria and Kenneth Friedman

The New Food (Waste & Insecurity) Guide Pyramid

The Problem   The Solution

                    The problem                                      The solution

The data say that 40% of food produced in the US is wasted, while almost 50 million Americans are food insecure to some degree. We wanted to share  Maria’s Story, because it shows the impact that supermarkets, kitchens, restaurants, food banks, and non profit and community organizations can have when they work together to decrease both food insecurity and food wastage.

Our audience is the decision makers of grocery stores at the Massachusetts Food Association (a non-profit association of grocery stores) annual meeting.

Our call to action is that grocery stores donate excess food, and cash, to food banks to help address the insidious problem of food insecurity in America.

To appropriately convey the message to the grocery store representatives attending the meeting, we evaluated the important factors that employees might look at when considering implementing a food donation program at their own store, and then the costs and the benefits of participating in the food donation process.  Costs include monetary and legal barriers to donating food, while benefits include the positive effect on individuals lives and a more positive public perception of the store in question. In addition, many legal worries are alleviated by the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, while the benefits are augmented by tax deductions.

We designed a pyramid shaped business card that resembles the shape and structure of the easily-recognizable food guide graphic: food pyramid. The card is two sided, and is a mockup of a give away that we would distribute to people at the annual MA Food Association conference. The front side expresses problems associated with food insecurity and food waste, and the flipside presents solutions: references to programs that can help alleviate and explain the costs associated with entering the food donation arena. The shape allows us to present the data at several levels: national, state and individual. This image also serces to connect Maria’s story with state and national data on food insecurity, to provide an inspiration to act.

The flipside represents a solution, and provides informational resources for how grocery store owners can help address the problem. It starts with reasons and resources for companies to donate their food to help with food security. It concludes with how community programs and store donations have made Maria better off, thereby closing the loop and finishing the story.

We combined quantitative and qualitative data. We found Maria’s story in the Project Bread 2013 Annual Status Report, and our quantitative data from a variety of sources:

Put Longwood on Boston’s Safe Cycling Map

Team: Reem Alfaiz, Argyro Nicolaou, Michelle Thomas

Our team created a video for Longwood Cyclists, a group of people who live or work in the Longwood area and want to make sure that Longwood gets its share of safe cycling infrastructure in the wake of the GoBoston 2030 campaign. This video is intended for online use and dissemination. We also created an accompanying Poster to be distributed and put up in the broader Mission Hill area.

The data from the GoBoston 2030 dataset show that a large portion of Boston residents are concerned with safe and easy bike access. Our audience is cyclists in Boston, specifically those living in or commuting to the Mission Hill and Longwood areas. We hope to encourage bikers to reach out to the Mission Hill Council Representative, Josh Zakim, and call for infrastructure reform to accommodate and encourage bike commuting as well as sign a petition to be sent to him. The GoBoston 2030 campaign has already shown that Boston’s City Council and the Mayor are committed to some sort of transport infrastructure change. Our video and campaign want to make sure that the Mission Hill area, and Longwood in particular, where so many people work, don’t get left behind in this process.

When looking through the GoBoston 2030 data, we noticed that the majority of questions written in were about issues of access (1297 out of 4719). We took a closer look at these questions and noticed two things; 25% of the questions were asking for safer options for bikers (325 out of 1297 questions), and some of the most striking ones mentioned the Longwood medical area, specifically problems on Huntington Avenue and Longwood Avenue. Some examples:

When do you think the Longwood Medical Area will be connected to the Charles River Bike paths via a barrier separated cycle track or lane?

As a commuter from Watertown to the Longwood medical area, I bike as much as possible.  The worst part of my ride by far is the portion on Longwood Avenue. I avoid Huntington Ave at all costs as it is substantially worse.

How are you going to improve bike paths and bike safety on major roads like Boylston St, Brookline Ave and Huntington Ave ?

We chose to create a character from this area using exact quotes from the data. In this way, we are putting a face and giving a voice to questions from the spreadsheet. Creating a character from the area using a combination of voices and issues will help us reach a wide audience and make people personally connect with the issue.

We chose to tell this story as a personal narrative video.  A video allows us to show an actual person, making it far easier to relate and pull the audience into the story more. It also allows us to physically show the route of many commuters. This is very relatable to Boston residents and shows recognizable landmarks. It also visually depicts the problems and dangers of a very common commute, while grounding it in reality. This also provides additional impact, clarification for those less familiar with cycling, and intense relatability for cyclists that know the area. Video also lends itself well to changes in mood, letting us shift the tone at the area of the character’s  accident to add weight to the incident. The video contains a direct call for action at the end, so viewers feel there is a way they can help bring change to the issues they just witnessed. In all, a video with a character directly rooted in the data creates a more personal data story with direct visual impact at a high level of relatability for Mission Hill and Boston residents.




Raising the Minimum Wage: Better Finances, Better Food, and Better Lives

Judy Chang, Iris Fung, Maddie Kim, Eric Lau

The data say that over 580,000 citizens in Massachusetts – equivalent to nearly the entire population of Boston – are making around the minimum wage. We want to tell this story because minimum wage earners need over double that to fully support their families; an increase in the minimum wage is needed by constituents and food aid organizations alike to sustainably reverse hunger.

Project Bread was founded in Massachusetts in 1974. Their anti-hunger efforts now include providing food coupons, running a counseling FoodSource hotline, and supporting school breakfast programs. To augment their efforts to sustainably reverse hunger, Project Bread urges constituents to advocate for legislation to increase the minimum wage. Our audience is voters, both in Massachusetts and nationwide, who might be unaware or unfamiliar of the issue, its scale, and its impact.

Our goals are two-fold: we wish to inform voters and use the power of pathos to compel them to take action and support legislation. We saw the personal story as the perfect vehicle to achieve this. We selected a story from Project Bread’s 2013 Annual Status Report on Hunger about Sam and his girlfriend and daughter, their financial and food insecurity struggles, and Project Bread’s assistance to them. To emphasize the relatable, narrative aspect of Sam’s story, it is told through a video displaying a progression of hand-drawn pictures while Sam is narrating. The viewer can connect to Sam’s struggles through his stream-of-consciousness.

Not only can viewers personally identify and connect with Sam’s story, but they can also absorb key information on the issue and act on it very easily. While the video is playing, key facts and statistics from Project Bread and the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center are shown on the side of the video as Sam introduces them in the video. They remain displayed for easy viewing and visual reinforcement of the video’s message. At the conclusion of the video, a button appears that directs to the signup page for Fight For 15, a political campaign advocating for a higher minimum wage. For viewers, this bridges the gap from understanding the issue at a personal level to acting on what they’ve learned in a positive way.

Watch the video here!

Getting to know the refugee populations of Massachusetts

Team: Michelle Thomas, Phillip Graham, Argyro Nicolaou

The data says that 16,214 out of more than 670,000 refugees resettled in the US since 2005 are hosted in Massachusetts. We want to tell the story of resettled refugees because the integration challenges that refugee populations face is something that should involve the entire host community.

For this project, our intended audience is native Massachusetts residents. The aim of the project is to make native MA residents get to know the refugee populations in their communities. We chose to focus on the state’s top three host cities for refugees, using data from the BuzzFeed US Refugee Relocation Dataset. We decided to use the total refugee population of cities, because upon looking at the data we were surprised to see that Boston wasn’t the top city, and felt that native MA residents would also share this reaction about the largest city in their state. We also used information from the US Department of State.

To contextualize our project, we provided information about the number of refugees relocated in the US and gave some background information on the relocation process. This information points to the length of the process, the effort required to actually be relocated to the US and the extent of the vetting process in order to give an idea of how hard it is to get to the USA as a refugee. While not part of our main message, this information was important for us to include because it humanizes the refugee population and helps combat some of the common misconceptions that refugees are a threat.   

We chose the map structure because it is an image that every MA resident can relate to. We ‘physicalized’ the data in 3D bars that represent each of the top-3 refugee populations in each city. We chose the bar shape both because it is very legible and because it resembles a building, an image that situates our project within the urban and/or social context of each city. By adding the interactive element of having a sample card in the highest bar, we hope to engage our audience in a physical action intending to reveal more information about refugee population in that city. It was important for us to include a call to action as part of our project. For this reason, each card includes information about a community initiative that helps refugees, together with ways in which people can volunteer/contribute to that initiative’s efforts. The image on the backs of each card quite literally gives a glimpse into the lives of refugee populations in MA, featuring some cultural symbols from the top refugee populations in Springfield, Boston and Worcester. These images come together to reveal a larger image of the side of an apartment building. This intends to bring across our message for the need of of integration of refugee and native communities and to show how we are already all living side-by-side.



data sculpture


#HearForYou: A Sonification Experience

By Kendra Pierre-Louis, Reem Alfaiz, Maddie Kim, and Julia Appel

Sculpture Context: This is a project proposal for World Relief, an international relief and development organization that works in the United States and internationally providing help to those affected by war, poverty, and disaster.


World Relief US is seeking proposals for an interactive data-driven experience to be installed in the lobby of their Atlanta headquarters on World Refugee Day: June 20, 2016. The purpose of the installation is to raise awareness of the rampant anti-Muslim and anti-refugee sentiment that has reached a fever pitch in the presidential election cycle. The call to action is to donate money to World Relief to aid their ongoing efforts to help ease resettlement among Muslim refugees to the United States.   

Sculpture Intent: This sound sculpture is called #HearForYou. It was created using data from BuzzFeed on the inflow of refugees to the United States. We looked at the proportion of Muslim refugees to total refugees for the past 10 years, from 2005 through 2015. Using a Python code we translated those frequency data into midi files; we created two sound files, one corresponding to the total number of refugees over the 10 year period, and one to the total number of Muslim refugees over the 10 year period. We can follow the user through the experience using the schematic diagram shown in the Keynote presentation. The user walks into a long rectangular room with 10 speakers mounted on the wall on each side of the room, 10 labels on the floor, and a TV screen at the far and of the room. (Each speaker and label corresponds to one year.) The TV screen at the front of the room is playing a short video of clips of presidential candidates’ bombastic anti-refugee and anti-Muslim sentiment, with subtitles. As the user walks through the room, they hear music coming from either side of them: on the right, the music corresponds to the data set of total immigrants, on the left it corresponds to the data set of Muslim immigrants.

The cacophony of the music — tonal and varying in frequency, but not melodic — is meant to mirror the discordant sound of the anti-Muslim and anti-refugee political rhetoric that has become increasingly difficult to ignore. This is further emphasized by the video playing on loop in front of the user the entire time she is in the room, which shows political candidates bombasting their xenophobic policy positions. The final four shots of the video are as follows: a still image of refugees overflowing from a rickety boat, a still image that reminds the user of World Refugee Day, a still image of a mother and child taking refuge on the beach, and finally a still image of the World Relief logo with the call to action.

Call to Action: At the end of the video, overlain onto the World Relief logo, is a call to action that says

Spread The Sound. #HearForYou. Donate: