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University System of Maryland

Storytelling with Data using Socio-environmental Report Cards

University System of Maryland via edX


Imagine if you had the tools that would galvanize volunteers to protect their local river, inspire politicians to fund restoration activities, or stimulate engineers to devise ways to reduce pollution. Socio-environmental report cards synthesize data from scientists and volunteers and convert it into an image-rich format that is easily accessible to a wide stakeholder audience.

Report card grades also tap into a powerful human motivator: peer pressure. Civic leaders and community members can compare their grades with their neighbors, and we have learned that these comparisons lead to a desire for better environmental outcomes in their own backyard.

For nearly two decades, our team has worked with local river protection groups to develop comprehensive assessments of iconic ecosystems like the Chesapeake Bay (United States of America) and the Great Barrier Reef (Australia). These socio-environmental report cards have been used to catalyze improvements in ecosystem health, motive cooperative problem-solving, guide restoration efforts, and stimulate relevant research.

We can no longer be content to just study environmental or natural resource-related problems. The challenges and negative environmental impacts of climate change and other myriad environmental management issues are upon us. We need to use science to inspire real change. We’ll show you how.


Module 1:

  • What are Report Cards?
  • Why Report Cards?
  • Report Card Application
  • From Qualitative to Quantitative
  • Distilling Data
  • Incorporating New Indicators
  • Evaluation of Report Card Impacts

Module 2:

  • Report Card Process
  • Enabling Conditions
  • Stakeholder Analysis
  • Project Planning 1
  • Project Planning 2
  • Workshop Planning
  • Facilitation and Engagement

Module 3:

  • Identifying Values and Threats
  • Identifying Indicators
  • Indicator Qualities
  • Defining Thresholds
  • Calculating Scores and Grades
  • Gaining Stakeholder Consensus

Module 4:

  • Communication strategies
  • Communicating Results
  • Designing Report Cards
  • Stakeholder-led Approach
  • Optimizing Collaborations
  • Systems Modelling

Module 5:

  • Overcoming Barriers
  • Creating and Maintaining Momentum
  • Dynamic Problem solving
  • Examples of Great Champions
  • Adaptive Governance
  • Theory of Change

Taught by

William “Bill” Dennison, Vanessa Vargas-Nguyen and Richard Arnold


4.8 rating, based on 10 Class Central reviews

Start your review of Storytelling with Data using Socio-environmental Report Cards

  • Anonymous
    I really appreciated this class about Report Cards. I feel to have learnt something crucial to communicate scientific knowledge. Reports Cards are probably the best communication tool ever to observe and monitor environmental issues, and link them to human activities (economical and social), to finally agree on what route to take, together, to overcome these issues or/and restore what was broken.

    I wish one day to be part of such project.
  • Anonymous
    This course really made me feel prepared to be involved in a scientific report card project. However, at the end of some of the modules, I felt that the material didn't fully prepare me for the assessment.
  • Anonymous
    Estoy encantada con el curso. No solo nos da consejos para elaborar las Tarjetas de reporte, sino que también nos brinda tips que pueden ser usados en otros contextos de la comunicación.
  • Anonymous
    It was a nice and smooth continuation from the data visualisation which was explained in the previous course, developed into the data communication, report card synthesis and the stakeholder management.

    The best thing about this course was it makes you find your own topic and explore. I did not have an ongoing research topic that I was working on, but it really made me look into the web, find information and let me come up with my ideas and opinion although I am not an expert in the field. It has broadend my interests and knowledge.
  • Anonymous
    Very enjoyable. Great entry-level course for those who are interested in pivoting to such a field (like myself).
  • Anonymous
    As a beta-tester of this course, I was happy to see the content not only focused on understanding and building report cards but also included detail on the backend work and the development that goes into this kind of project. Another nice aspect to highlight is that the course also gave me the chance to use my own examples and work as I was learning in different modules; the activities build off of each other and allow the student to follow along as the report card process progresses.
  • Anonymous
    This course really creates the atmosphere for application, by first walking you through the report card process step-by-step and then providing an opportunity to imagine being in the role of report card developer. The decades of experience of the instructors and the lessons learned from the case studies include invaluable, real-world experiences that then equip you with the tools to create socio-environmental report cards that can effect change.
  • Anonymous
    As part of the early access testing group, I highly recommend this to anyone interested in report cards or interested in how to make an impact in environmental changes.
  • Anonymous
    I liked the course, as it was very informative and provided a lot of knowledge. I have not realized, that developing such a report card is such a complex process.
  • Anonymous
    Very informative! It was very eye-opening approach to data presentation in a format that is accessible to all. Highly recommended!

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