Behind Each Statistic is a Story: How Communicators Can Effectively Use Data to Reach a Youth Audience

In yesterday’s blog I shared some of the insights I have been learning at Health Datapalooza these past couple of days. Two of the sessions I attended, “Making Data Work for the Public’s Health: Telling the Story Behind the Numbers” and “Data-Driven Innovation for Invisible Illness, Mental Health, and Suicide Prevention” were of particular interest because of the work Vanguard does for our clients around mental illness.

More than that, these were relevant because of the value our firm places on using personal storytelling to create lasting change.

Here are four key ways to bridge the gap between health data and the people who can use it to craft policies and protocols that can change lives.

1. Begin with Your Audience

Don’t underestimate the power of knowing which communities and which people you are hoping to help. Take, for example, a youth audience. Making sense of data for this audience must begin with a clear understanding of how they communicate, what drives or motivates them, and how putting the data into a broader context will present insights into this population. Youth are peer-driven. They want to know how the data influences them and their peers.

2. Combine Narrative with Data

Combining personal storytelling with data plays on both the emotion and logic of the audience. Presenting data within narrative helps the research resonate in a personal and powerful way. Beginning with big data on mental illness in youth shows the magnitude of the issue and the large scope of those impacted. Sharing a personal story from a youth living with a mental illness shows the impact on an individual and his/her community and makes the issue more relatable to the audience. Companies like Patient Voice Institute are giving people a platform to share their story and amplify their collective voice.

3. Make the Data Visual and Interactive

How the data is packaged is just as significant as the data itself. Use visuals like infographics and clear and visually appealing charts through social media to present the data in a catchy way. Making the data interactive and personalized helps engage the audience. When trying to reach a youth audience, presenting the data through infographics, videos, and interactive webpages will be much more effective in showing how the data impacts them and their peers. One example is LiveStories, a Seattle-based start-up focused on presenting data in intuitive and engaging formats.

4. Include a Specific Call to Action

Data alone doesn’t emotionally speak to your audience. If we are truly focused on changing health outcomes based on the data collected, then we need to accept that the data, while necessary, is insufficient on its own. Do we want youth to persuade decision-makers to consider a health policy through the power of storytelling and data? Do we want youth to tell their stories through videos to reach their peers in school who are facing the same mental health challenges? Do we want youth to engage stakeholders in the community through sharing their stories and offering hope to others?

When storytelling and data work together, significant increases in health outcomes can be achieved. Each statistic has a story behind it and we as communicators should never lose sight of the power of telling that story.