Grounded: Data with a story

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Jill was turned away from two hospitals this weekend, without a way to relieve her pain. “As soon as they find out your homeless and a drug addict, that’s it.”

Fred is ready to get out of the cold, once and for all, but first, he has to find a room, do his back taxes, and fill out a battery of paperwork. The subsidy he needs to afford rent is paid for by the feds. But, his monthly OW money comes from the province. Because the money comes at two different times, it’s nearly impossible to find a landlord who will accept both.

Lina wanted to leave her abusive ‘old man’ but didn’t have any money for a taxi. He stole the $250 she saved. “Do you know how hard it is for an alcoholic and addict to save $250?”

These are the day-to-day stories that fill the airways at Drop-In Centres in Toronto. The question is, how might we take these stories and do something proactive with them, for both individuals and systems? How might telling the stories be a cathartic experience: an opportunity to feel heard; to find strategies; to build motivation? How might documenting, aggregating, and visualizing the stories be a way for policymakers to better understand the intended & unintended effects of policies, identify the gaps, name alternatives, and develop more grounded options and recommendations?

Grounded: Data with a story is a concept for a new intelligence gathering service where the end users are both the people experiencing the challenges AND the policy analysts charged with responding to challenges. It uses story editing techniques to enable end users to re-tell their stories. It offers a feedback mechanism for policymakers, and offers a sight line of the barriers getting in the way.


We’ve tested Grounded in Ottawa with civil servants. In doing so we learned a bit about how to test our ideas with different user groups and about how Grounded can work in practice. Watch the video below to see what a day of testing and learning looks like when the team goes on the road!