Fall 2017 SAVI Online Magazine Emagazine Fall 2017 FINAL - Page 10

CASE STUDY | Brian Dixon


Personal stories can be powerful tools for building relationships and creating meaning . They broaden horizons and connect people to the wider world .
Data stories are different in one way : They take whole populations instead of individuals as their starting point . But , they have the same basic purpose of creating meaning . They put datasets in a big-picture context and tease out connections .
Spinning stories out of raw data is vital , in this era of information overload , since it ’ s about “ connecting the dots for the reader ,” says Dr . Brian Dixon , a Regenstrief Institute investigator and associate professor of epidemiology at the IU Fairbanks School of Public Health , where he teaches the “ Foundations of Public Health Informatics ” class .
As part of their training , his students create data stories using SAVI Advanced , which allows users to upload their own datasets and analyze them in relationship to SAVI ’ s data on social determinants .
“ So , I can give my students a dataset with information about chronic diseases at a census tract level ,” Dixon says . “ Then they can upload that and connect it to social determinants data in SAVI . They can look at poverty rates , for example , and look at the relationship between poverty and diabetes , hypertension , or other chronic diseases ” in a specific place . They can also contextualize that data with information from regional and national sources , like the Centers for Disease Control .
Storytelling with data can show why certain problems and programs deserve a share of limited resources , and how investing in one area can have an impact on multiple issues . More fundamentally , it highlights the value of what public health professionals do .
“ Public health tends to be invisible ,” Dixon says . “ You see police officers . You see firemen . You don ’ t see public health workers , unless you need to go in and get your birth certificate . That ’ s partly why storytelling is important to public health . It has become increasingly important as society asks , ‘ What is the role of governmental public health ? What does it do ? Do we need it ?’”
Dixon ’ s work got a major vote of confidence in July , when he and a colleague won a five-year , $ 2.5 million grant from the National Library of Medicine to fund the Indiana Training Program in Public and Population Health Informatics .