Emerging technologies present new opportunities as well as new challenges. The informational power relationship of governments and corporations that provide homogeneous and opaque methods of access, manipulation and communication of data; the increasing cost entailed in personal data (i.e. surveillance and profiling); and the increasing automation of content interpretation (i.e. machine learning), make critical to decentralize the ability to produce data-based narratives.

Modes of access and tools to manipulate data have brought marginalized actors to collaboratively create alternative narratives to those delivered by dominant power structures. Non-profit organizations and activist groups increasingly base their campaigns on data, using visualization as an agency tool for change. Data-driven alternative narratives counteract the hegemony of information, questioning the status quo and promoting the non-flattening of the data society, seeking to strengthen democracy. Data visualization is a decisive adversarial tool (DiSalvo, 2012) for turning data into alternative narratives. Translating data into visual representations for alternative narratives is an activist practice that requires a critical approach to data to make a political position evident and coherent.

This research proposes a twofold approach to the design of adversarial visualizations for alternative narratives. The first one relates to the self-hacking or disclosure of design decisions made by designers in the building process of the visualizations for counteracting the opacity of data and its manipulation. The second approach introduces a data design framework to guide authors and audiences in questioning data and the design of its visual representations. The data design framework presents four lenses for questioning data and its design processes: Open/close, Composition, Zoom, and Sanitization. Different strategies can be derived from each lens; eight combinable strategies are presented as a starting point. Both the self-hacking approach and the data design framework are ways to prompt a critical data culture within the datafied society.

It is indispensable to recognize and promote practices to move towards a critical approach to the process of visual representation of data. For this reason, knowledge must be raised about how data visualization for alternative narrative is occurring and how its construction process is going. In order to raise knowledge, the research was conducted through two design explorations in which field observation of the creation and building-up process of artefacts containing or promoting alternative narratives was observed. A second exploration consisted in a case study of data visualization projects in digital platforms meeting the criteria defined as “spaces for confrontation” (Mouffe, 2005b). From case study analysis, a taxonomy of projects is proposed and types of narrative strategies are identified. The collection of cases is available on the Alternative Narratives Vis Archive website. 

The framework has a direct didactic implication for those who design with data as a critical tool for the construction of visualizations. At the same time, it has an indirect impact on the audiences of alternative narratives with data that self-contain their open critical process. While the data design framework can be applied in different settings, it is aimed to support the work of non-profit organizations and activist collectives seeking inventive ways to tell alternative narratives. Finally, the framework contributes to the data culture within the datafied society