Pi Will Always Love You: Inspiring an Appreciation for Data Analytics

International Pi Day

Those who know me well aren’t surprised that I celebrate my love of quantitative research on Pi Day each year—which is March 14, or 3.14.

I’m the guy who proudly wears a shirt that reads “SAS=Love.” For the non-data nerds out there, SAS is a statistical analysis software package.

My eyes light up and my voice kicks into Warp 8 when coworkers ask me questions about data. And it’s not because I particularly love numbers. Rather, I love the stories the numbers tell, and how those stories help communicators make a difference in this world.

When I start talking data, I see it time and again—eyes glaze over and people say, “I don’t understand numbers. That’s why I’m in communications.” So how can we research nerds do our part to make data more accessible and useful to our industry?

Here are a few tips for inspiring an appreciation for data analytics among your communications colleagues.

Communicate data in the context of real life stories. One of the reasons I hated math growing up was because the problems never mattered to me. I didn’t care about the probability of Jimmy or Johnny pulling the blue marble out of the bag. Likewise, I’ve never heard a friend talk about their amazing relationship with the number 5. That’s because without meaningful context, numbers don’t matter to most people.

Stories help people make sense of complex ideas, including sometimes complicated data. Moreover, communication that uses both emotion and data appropriately is almost always more effective than one or the other alone. Make them laugh. Make them cry. And provide them with data that enrich those reactions.

Position data as solutions to problems. Find out what your audience wants or needs to know and build your narrative around how data can scratch that itch. Always ask yourself, “Why does this finding matter?” If you can’t think of a good reason, then it’s unlikely anyone else will see the value either. Author Thomas Davenport advises, “Never make the mistake of assuming that the results will ‘speak for themselves.’”

Recognize that most people have low numeracy, and tailor your message appropriately. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Numeracy is the ability to access, use, interpret, and communicate mathematical information and ideas […].” A 23-country comparative study conducted by the Program for International Assessment of Adult Competencies found that only 9 percent of Americans ages 16 to 65 scored a 4 or above on a 5-point assessment of numeracy.

Speak in plain-language. If you’re a “Quant Jock”, you’ve probably never uttered the phrase, “It’s all Greek to me,” when someone is using jargon you don’t understand. That’s because alpha, beta, delta and other Greek letters have specific meanings in your mind. It’s a tough truth, but if you want other people in your organization to care about your insights, ditch the technical language. Don’t give people a reason to continue believing that they can’t make sense of data. Convert them.

I’ll say it again: I love data. If you’re read this far, chances are you do too. Let’s join together in encouraging our colleagues to be better data consumers. Let’s transform our findings into insights that fuel smarter decisions that lead to healthier outcomes.

When we combine the art and science of social change communication, the possibilities, like Pi, are infinite.