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New interactive game highlights shortcomings in census data

Toronto Ward Museum wants to challenge people's stereotypes and show what's missing in census data collection.

Toronto Ward Museum founder Gracia Dyer Jalea hopes the new interactive game will challenge stereotypes and influence changes in how census data is collected.

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Toronto Ward Museum founder Gracia Dyer Jalea hopes the new interactive game will challenge stereotypes and influence changes in how census data is collected.

Want to better understand what the complex data from the census means? There’s a game for that.

Not Just Numbers, a new project from the Toronto Ward Museum, is an interactive mystery game that’s gets participants to identify shortcomings in census data.

Participants in the game are divided into different groups and presented with different envelopes containing basic facts about somebody – anything from a name, date of birth, nationality, spoken languages, religion or place of residence, just like on the census sheet.

A facilitator then leads a discussion about who that person is and what their lifestyle might be, and then they’re shown actual details of the individual in question and compare them to their formed assumptions based on the census data.

While confronting preconceived biases can be uncomfortable, the exercise is meant to challenge stereotypes and highlight what the census is unable to properly capture, said Toronto Ward Museum’s founder Gracia Dyer Jalea.

“There’s definitely a lot of gaps in the government data collection,” she said, noting people recently got excited about the return of long-form census but the exercise still lacks options in ethnicity and gender.

“I’m much more likely to have an idea of who you are based on your Facebook page than the census entry.”

The museum plans to take its game across the country, setting up photo booths where the public will share ideas on what they would like to see added into the census process.

The project is already in the process of collecting the country’s stories of migration and diversity, and it hopes the game will take the discussions of inclusion further ahead.

“We just want to see community engagement drive important institutional changes,” said Jalea.

Launch date:

Not Just Numbers game was developed in association with the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, the Toronto Public Library and Myseum of Toronto. It will debut at the Myseum Intersectional Festival March 23 at the Toronto Reference Library, before traveling to Halifax in April and Ottawa in July.

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