Data Literacy – Tell me a Story

Data literacy is not only about understanding data, but it's also about telling the right story within the data.

Nowadays, one can scarcely do research in business without hearing about the need to use data, the need to digitally transform their business, and the need to increase data literacy skills. We know that the need for the four data literacy skills is paramount in today’s economy and working environment.

Those skills include the ability to read, work with, analyze, and argue with data. We also know that organizations need to have a culture where the data literacy DNA flows and weaves itself through to bring data and insight to the forefront of decisions. One key piece that may seem like it goes under the radar but is starting to come to the forefront: data storytelling skills. What is data storytelling and how does it fit in with data literacy? Why does it matter? And how can one improve their skills within data storytelling? Throughout this blog post, we will illuminate this skill, and discuss why everyone should learn the art of data storytelling and how it is a key to driving data insight correctly.

A quick google search will show that data storytelling is: “the process of translating data analyses into layman’s terms in order to influence a business decision or action.” If one thinks of the four tenants of data literacy: the ability to read, work with, analyze, and argue with data, one can see that the ability to gather insight from data utilizing storytelling fits directly into each characteristic. The ability to read data allows one to formulate the story. The ability to work with data allows one to put the story in the necessary context and gather insight; Context is one of the greatest keys to telling the correct story. The ability to analyze the data enables one to utilize a story to drive insight. Finally, to argue with data properly, storytelling can be a major asset. Using a story to drive home a point or insight backed by data will allow one to argue effectively with data to drive business decisions. But why does story telling matter in the world of data, don’t people already possess the skills to correctly share the insight?

We learn from an article from Manner of Speaking that: “In the average one-minute speech, the typical student use 2.5 statistics. Only one student in ten tells a story. Those are the speaking statistics. The “remembering” statistics, on the other hand, are almost a mirror Image: When students are asked to recall the speeches, 63% remember the stories. Only 5% remember any individual statistic.” The reality is that not everyone is well versed in the language and fluency of data, but people remember stories. Think back to memorable conversations you have had or memorable speeches you listened to. Are they memories of the stories and conversations themselves, or is it a statistic from here or there?

This also matters because just like we have illustrated in a previous blog post, the massive amount of data being created today is causing a data skills-gap to exist, and individuals and organizations do not currently have the data literacy skills necessary to fully utilize all this data. Organizations want to embrace digital transformation and they want to fully utilize their own data being created, but they lack the necessary training in data science. To do this in the most effective matter, people should start to utilize story telling within their organizations to drive insight and involve more members.

How can one improve their data storytelling skills? It all starts with improving their overall data literacy skill-set and abilities. One skill within data literacy that everyone needs to develop and grow is data fluency. The ability to hold conversations, present data effectively, and communicate appropriately, is crucial to data literacy. If we think of the four characteristics: read, work with, analyze, and argue with data, they all have a part of data fluency. As an added piece, understanding and utilizing the right vocabulary with data enables one to become a stronger storyteller.

One book that people can pick up and study dives into data fluency: “Data Fluency: Empowering Your Organization with Effective Data Communication.” Utilizing this book can improve individual’s data literacy skills, which in turn can help organizations with data driven decision making, and storytelling!

In his blog, Jordan Morrow explains the importance of knowing how to tell the right story within your data.


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