Change is good.
Change is coming.
Change is inevitable.
Change is the only constant.
What if I told you that, sometimes, no change is far more interesting than change?
If you’re telling stories with data, odds are you probably spend a lot of time looking for change in order to develop an interesting story. You likely want to find data that shows how much something is increasing — or decreasing — so you can talk about the exciting change.
But interesting stories — sometimes the most interesting stories — are often hidden in data that shows no change at all. There have been many occasions when clients or data journalists I work with have expressed profound disappointment when their data revealed no change. But more than once, I’ve had the opportunity to show them just how interesting no change can be.
So how can no change be interesting? In so many ways.
Let me show you.
Things Aren’t Getting Worse (Success!)
Sometimes no change can mean our efforts have slowed down — or even stopped — a negative trend, which can be interpreted as a success. As an example, let’s look at the Social Determinants of Health project we worked on in Northern Ontario.
A while ago, the team at Datassist partnered with a collaborative group of health organizations in an effort to understand changes in the social determinants of health in local communities — basically, to determine if we could improve overall health by addressing poverty levels, employment rates, mental health, high school graduation rates, etc. in a given community.
As we sifted through the combined data from the various agencies involved, we found that employment rates in the most vulnerable neighbourhoods were not increasing, despite our best efforts. The stakeholders were incredibly disappointed. But as we analyzed the data further and looked at trends within those neighbourhoods prior to our project’s start, we realized employment rates in those areas had been consistently dropping — and were now holding steady.
This was an important and exciting improvement for those communities, even though it wasn’t immediately evident from the numbers.
Stability is Increasing (Success!)
No change can also be interesting when it means that whatever you’re measuring is becoming more stable or consistent. This was the case when we worked on a project in Bangladesh called Strengthening the Dairy Value Chain.
CARE USA, CARE Bangladesh, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation were working together on a project aimed at improving the livelihoods of small herd dairy farmers in rural Bangladesh by linking them into groups that could more effectively sell their milk to large dairy processing organizations. Our team was brought in to assist with the large, complex datasets being generated by the project.
As time went by, the data we collected showed that farmers in our project were producing a lower-than-average amount of milk — a statistic that, at first glance, did not fill anyone with confidence that our efforts were improving their lives. Further analysis, however, revealed that while farmers in our program produced less milk on average than those not in the project, the farmers in our groups generated much more consistent production, making them much more attractive to potential business partners.
In this case, the lack of change made a huge difference for the farmers involved — the stabilization of their production made their business model much more viable than it had been previously.
Unexpected Things are Happening (Success!)
Sometimes, when we work on a social project, our data does something we tend to think is even less interesting than no change at all — the numbers go in the wrong direction. It’s important to remember that unexpected results can still mean your efforts are succeeding.
In a project where we partnered with an organization that hoped to use education to reduce the incidence of violence against women, our job was to measure the rates of violence against women in each of the participating communities, at the start, middle, and end of the five-year project.
Distressingly, when we reached the midpoint of the project and collected data on violence against women after over two years of work, we found that rates of violence had risen dramatically, a trend that seemed to indicate the project was failing.
Further study of the communities revealed otherwise — the project was a success. The educational program was teaching women what unacceptable treatment looked like — and they were, as a result, reporting more incidents of violence. Although this caused the rates to rise, (the opposite of what we had hoped for) it was still a success. And happily, by the time we collected data for the end of the project, rates had started to reduce, showing the results we had been aiming for all along.
Sometimes No Change is Interesting
Is there a great story hiding in your data? Is a lack of a change (or an unexpected change) leading you to believe your efforts are in vain? At Datassist, our team of skilled statisticians and data analysts can help you better understand the stories your data is telling — and communicate them to your audience. Get in touch with us today to discuss how we can help you.