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 In Data Analysis Concepts Simplified

Do you remember the 80’s ad for Reese’s peanut butter cups that featured the tagline two great tastes that taste great together? (Maybe I’m dating myself.)

The premise is that, while chocolate and peanut butter are both tasty enough on their own, combining them results in an even more delicious snack. If you’re wondering what this has to do with data and stories, don’t worry — I’m getting there.

Are You Producing “Results”?

For years, I’ve worked with various nonprofits, policymakers, and journalists to research, collect statistics, and analyze data. We take data, ask the questions we have an interest in, and try to develop an analysis that offers some answers. The whole process gives us a bunch of numbers: results.

It’s not that our findings are unsound or lacking in quality. We can generate tables that are scientific and robust. We can develop graphs and plot trends and try to show how important our numbers are. These are, of course, reasonable — and even valuable — things to do, but many data collectors and analysts have complained to me that they are missing something.

Technical feedback is fine, but those generating tables and graphs and plots often find they face a significant lack of “OH!” — the world doesn’t seem to react, even when the results we’ve generated are meaningful.

Partnering Data with Stories

A few years back, I had a breakthrough about how to convey the connection between data analysis results and real world impact: we need to partner our data with stories.

We’ve done a few posts lately about the importance of getting the data right for your story: understanding how honest your data is, why data biographies matter so much, and how to tell stories in the right direction.

There’s a lot of focus on getting the data right for your story, but what about getting the story right for your data?

In my experience, very few decision makers want to open an Excel spreadsheet. Frontline service providers don’t want to spend their (often scarce) free moments paging through plots of which children in their district may benefit most from which intervention, based on their immigration status. These people need numbers, but that doesn’t mean they want to spend hours poring over analysis results.

Data + Stories = Results That Engage

If you have data analysis that people need but are disinclined to consume, what can you do? Partner your data with a story.

“Compelling data can be an important part of how we influence those we lead. Employing stories can be equally powerful ammunition, and is often a superior approach when we’re enlisting others to act.”

Bob Sherwin of Zenger Folkman

Let’s say I take the results the frontline social sector staff didn’t have time for, and I use them to craft a story illustrating the real benefits to real children — say, a young boy in this village benefitted x% from one treatment, while the life of a small girl in the next town over was improved y% by another. I can add a beautifully designed plot or two — so that once I’ve captured their attention with the human element of the story, I can convince them with the numbers.

Not only does this approach get the impact of an organization’s efforts across, it widens the impact the data has. With a compelling story to complement the data, the frontline team wants to show it to their friends and peers. It gets posted on Pinterest; it goes viral on social media. Suddenly, everyone wants to read the results.

No Data Without Stories, No Stories Without Data

At Datassist, we understand that not everyone has the resources to produce both rigorous data results and compelling stories. Our team works to support nonprofits, social sector organizations, and journalists by providing the data to go with your stories, and vice versa!

If you want to tell a tale that’s one part art, one part science, and a whole lot of passion, we’re here to help. Whether you need help collecting, analyzing, visualizing or simply telling your data’s story, get in touch with us today.


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