In response to a recent post on CreateEquity — Stories vs. Data — I wrote the following comment, which I thought I might like to share. The gist of the original post, if you don’t care to read it, is that data = mass-produced stories. While valuable to funders, and perhaps easier to gather than we think it is, data is still somehow inferior to storytelling: a point with which I disagree. Data, I believe, tells a story; it’s an alternative to the stories we normally tell, but it’s not evil. Here’s what I wrote:
The thing about data is that it doesn’t lie; people lie about data, but honestly-collected data always tells the truth. This is often why people fear it; it reveals what we might prefer to conceal, or at least to not see.
The reason we tell stories is because we want to shape narratives the way we believe they ought to be shaped. We aren’t comfortable being subject to the story told by the data. If a particular show doesn’t sell well, we’d rather focus on how transformational it was for the smaller number of people who saw it, which is where we enter the realm of anecdote and difficult-to-measure data points.
What if we COULD measure how meaningful or valuable a show was to its audiences? What if we could determine a VQ — a Value Quotient — that could serve as a multiplier for the number of tickets sold to a given show? (I’m not saying HOW we could do this; I’m merely suggesting we figure it out.) The result would be a more accurate measure of the reach or effect of our work. For each show, we’d have a formula like this:
# Tickets Sold x VQ = Adjusted Reach
Here’s another angle: what if we started measuring the impact of our work in social media? Counting the number of Twitter references to our shows, the number of Facebook posts about them, the number of blogs written about them? What if we measured the traffic to the pages of our websites on which we promote our shows? There’s a great deal of analytics data that might be useful.
The bottom line, for me, is this: we need to be less afraid of data. We need to embrace it, for all its difficulty, which is (I think) what you’re suggesting. So data isn’t the same thing as a story: so what? It is what it is, and it’s valuable on its own terms. There are valid reasons funders ask for it; let’s not forget that.