The need for storytelling
Successful analytics is often referred to as “telling a story with data.” This is an important talking point for successful analytics precisely because telling a compelling story with data can spell the success or failure of an analytics project.
Herein lies the problem: it’s said that two people can interpret the same data or data visualisation differently. Data can be twisted to say almost anything. Data, as you know, is a critical part especially of big business. Data within the organisation can be used to support and steer decisions and actions for that organisation’s future. Depending on one’s role in the organisation—data scientist, business analyst or marketer—the data can be used to fit a different story. And this is one of the hardest things to accomplish of late in the big data analytics initiatives – correctly fitting data to the story.
On the other hand, doing it the other way around takes as much skill – to build a compelling story around the data. There is a real need for data storytellers. Data as-it-is is not enough to support a decision-maker’s point. Likewise, IT people and analysts often lack the creativity and communication skills to do so. Often their strength is to talk about how the data was attained through technique and methodology, not to present how the data can help the business. Storytellers are needed for analytics to have an impact on decisions and actions, ensuring that time and money was not wasted on acquiring, managing and analysing data
What is data storytelling?
There is an analytics mantra. It goes, “Always start with the data and build your story around it.” Narrative or story is the way we simplify and make sense of a complex world by supplying context, insight and interpretation – things that make data meaningful and analytics interesting and finally convincing. Data storytelling is accepted as a means to make analytics convincing or compelling: a means to persuade, inspire trust and lead change. Compelling data storytelling combines data, analytics and an anecdote or example that involves real people and organisations.
It is a way to deliver shorthand representations of analysis and data preparation – a snappy way that isn’t time-consuming or boring.
What makes data storytelling effective?
According to Ryan Fuller, GM at Microsoft and former CEO of Volometrix, “It weaves data into a narrative tailored to a specific audience in order to convey credibility in the analytical approach, confidence in the results and compelling set of insights that is actionable to the audience.”
Effective data storytelling provides contextualisation for the data. It answers the question of “why.” Data storytelling goes beyond “here’s what happened.” Data visualisation does none of those things, but hand-in-hand with data storytelling, the data becomes more compelling as visualisation provides the proof that backs up the narrative.
Effective data storytelling is the same as effective storytelling. It has a logical structure, a thesis, supporting facts and compelling presentation. It employs creativity to provide context for the data, interpret the results and articulate insights and opportunities—instead of just sharing the technical aspects or methodologies on how the data was attained.
Effective data storytellers know their audience. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to data storytelling. The data storyteller transforms complex data into a meaningful and compelling story depending on the audience.
Effective data storytelling involves collaboration. As mentioned earlier, data scientists, business analysts and marketers represent different versions of a story. Data storytelling should incorporate these versions through collaboration. In other words, data storytelling is an interdisciplinary activity that involves the expertise of data scientists, visualisation experts, marketers and editorial staff. However, the best person to tell the story is the one closest to the data – the analyst.
Data storytelling represents a new breed of analyst, one who knows the data and has the communication skills to drive home analytics initiatives. More than being a technical person behind the scenes, the analyst is taking the spotlight by being at the forefront of decisions and weaving stories that impact business decisions.
For questions on data management and data-driven business, contact ADEC Philippines Managed Services on +63 2 775 0632 loc 8187.