Article Text

Download PDFPDF
The art of drawing numbers and stories in the air: epidemiology, information, emotion and action
  1. Rafael Cofiño1,
  2. Miguel Prieto1,
  3. Oscar Suárez1,
  4. Kristen Malecki2
  1. 1Public Health Directorate, Asturias Regional Ministry of Health, Spain
  2. 2Department of Population Health Science, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Rafael Cofiño, Department of Health Evaluation and Programmes, Directorate of Public Health, Asturias Regional Ministry of Health, C/ Ciriaco Miguel Vigil, nº 9, 33006 Oviedo, Asturias, Spain; rcofinof{at}

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.

The impulse to paint comes neither from observation nor from the soul (which is probably blind) but from an encounter: the encounter between painter and model: even if the model is a mountain or a shelf of empty medicine bottles

John Berger, The Shape of a Pocket

How do we transmit epidemiological information? How do we transmit the information to guide public health and community health? Do we have stories to be told? How do we tell the stories about health and disease situation in our population? Do we know how to tell stories about ‘numbers’? Are we using the same graphic designs as those used 30 years ago? Do we consider presentation of the data as important as collecting the information and analysing it? Is that collected information useful to improve the health of our population?

Bridging gaps between epidemiology and community health promotion

Epidemiological information has the power to be transformative and promote action that is both effective and efficient, but these actions are not possible without forging bridges between disciplines and thoughtful collaborations including researchers, practitioners, people and communities. Translating epidemiological findings into meaningful results and action is a challenge because of the miscommunication and lack of a common language between those who are generating the data and those who need this data and information to make decisions. We propose that this translation of epidemiological findings, particularly in a community setting, could benefit from the art of storytelling and the contribution of new data visualisation approaches.

Storytelling may provide an important framework to support this translation and community action

In 2009, the United Nations launched a series of guides called ‘Making Data Meaningful’.1 The first one emphasises the importance of the statistical story: “First and foremost, you need a story to tell. You should think in terms of issues or themes, rather than a description of data. Specifically, you need to find meaning in the statistics. A technical …

View Full Text


  • Contributors RC had the original idea for the editorial and wrote the first draft. MP and OS had made the first translation and revised the paper. KM had revised the original translation, wrote the Milwaukee experience and revised the paper.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; externally peer reviewed.