Become a Data Bard in 5 Leaps

 

By RJ Clark

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In medieval Gaelic and British times there was a person whose sole job it was to compose poems, songs or stories about their employers life (usually a monarch or nobleman.) These story tellers were called bards and they are credited to prolonging the oral history and cultural times of these groups.

Today, while no one holds an official title of bard, the need for capturing what’s happening in an organization, project or experience is still critical. The modern poetry of the technological era is data.

Collecting and interpreting data is a driving force for modern businesses and organizations, but as data reaches higher and higher levels of complexity, it can seem less and less connected to our daily lives and the story becomes harder to tell. Data visualization can bring multiple layers of complexity into a single story. It is up to those charged with telling those stories to turn important ideas into epic memorable moments.

  1. Go Slow to Go Fast

Many data analytics projects happen under a time crunch. It is very tempting to dive in and start collecting information. But there are a few steps that MUST be taken first.

Starting off with a strong plan saves time on the overall project. Reworking and editing won’t take up so much  time if you have good planning. If a step is missed, due to rushing through the project, there may be no way to go back and recover a lost opportunity.  At a minimum, data planning needs to:

  1. Establish what the user needs to learn or accomplish through this activity.
  2. Match the goals to all possible data that might be collected to accomplish those goals.
  3. Use a collection format that is easy to use for both those collecting data and the analysts that will need to turn that story into insight down the road. It will also need to be flexible enough to add new fields and make new requirements as the research gets underway.
  4. Ensure good data quality. This will save time and give more options down the road.
  1. Catch it All!

The preparation is complete. The plans are set. Now it is time to start gathering data.  This could be research, an event, a information mining activity, a series of interviews, a survey, or almost anything that needs to be broken down for study.

Now, it is important to avoid tunnel vision. The task of collecting or mining a significant amount of data can be daunting, and it is easy to focus on understanding and recording only the minimum to meet the needs of a project. Oftentimes the most important points are the unexpected ones that will reveal the real value of the project.

  1. Put on Your Hunting Hat

There may be basic questions that can be answered with simple counts and averages. It may be that the relationships between different areas need to be examined very closely to find high value insights. Experiment with combining different areas and fields to look for correlation vs. causation. This is where simple data tools like Microsoft Excel’s Powerpivot really shine.

  1. Get Dynamic

It might be tempting to turn your data into graphs, but everyone knows what a graph looks like. And they are not very interesting. Graphs are excellent at conveying limited amounts of information in a clear way, but many problems today have increasing degrees of complexity that can’t be shown in a simple graph. By introducing dynamic elements to link elements of data, we can then move into the realm of storytelling. If you want to see a great example of this in action, check out this awesome Ted Talk by Hans Rosling.

  1. Make it Shine

Now you have the story together that your data will tell, but don’t stop now! Just like a wonderfil tale, it needs a setting. Great stories are going untold because they lack this vital human step. Advanced Visualization will make your data story easier for your audience to understand, more engaging and, perhaps most importantly, more memorable. An experienced graphic artist knows how to make visual information speak to a specific audience to convey a specific message. Just like with great storytelling, there are layers of meaning and finesse that are vital to transform data into an epic story.