Scientists have a greater ability to gather important information about our oceans more so than ever before—but the data they collect can be difficult for the ordinary person to access, understand, or put into context.

What if complex scientific data sets were treated more like an illustration in a great picture book—a visual that brings a story to life and even helps to move it along?

The Visualizing Change project is building just such “visual narratives,” and equipping science educators at aquariums, zoos, and nature centers across the nation to use them to tell more effective stories about how climate change is affecting our oceans. To create these narratives, Visualizing Change first selected four climate-related issues supported by the best available science, and worked with data specialists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to find photographs, maps, graphs, and other sources of evidence that could illustrate a presentation about the topic.

Teams of experienced science educators then developed the presentations around these visuals—using what they know about engaging visitors’ curiosity. Our partners at the FrameWorks Institute, a communications think tank that develops science translation strategies and techniques, helped to organize the information so that it was clear, accessible, and inspiring. The resulting narratives can be used on the many types of display screens that are found in science centers: tablets, flat screens, or spherical displays.

During 2016, we are in the final phase of this three-year project. We are presenting training and sharing new tool kits to support educators in making use of the materials we have produced, and we are conducting evaluation to assess impacts of the project. We expect to equip at least 100 interpreters from 50 institutions to use the narratives to teach their visitors about important topics in marine conservation.

Aquarium educator talks with visitors next to globe
Visitors looking at information about Earth on a spherical display at New England Aquarium as part of the Visualizing Change project.

Visualizing Change is a partnership led by four aquariums: New England Aquarium, Aquarium of the Pacific, National Aquarium and Seattle Aquarium. Additional partners include the Buttonwood Park Zoo the Exploratorium, FrameWorks Institute and New Knowledge Organization. The project is supported by a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association.