3 Myths about Data Stories

To Meet Your Programming Needs

April 21, 2023

Maryfrances Porter

In the last Academy session we focused on data visualization.  We are almost done – just one more session on pulling everything together in Masterful Impact Stories!
Let’s start with some basic definitions – that will help us all be on the same page!

     Data analysis is the process of taking your survey data and figuring out what it’s telling you.
     Data viz is when you format your results so people want to look at them.
     Data stories are when you create data viz that tells a specific story from your analyses.
     Impact stories are when you combine data stories and client narratives to move people to action.

Data Doesn’t Have a Voice – You Have to Give it One
The third, and final step in the ImpactStory Strategy is to create convincing impact stories that move people to action. Actions like: clients to succeed, staff to achieve, programs to improve, and funders to give.In order to tell impact stories, you have to understand what is telling you (i.e., data analysis). You then need to tell that story to people in a compelling way (i.e. data stories). (You all know I love Depict Data Studio and the way they create data stories – this is their example!)This seems like it would be pretty straightforward – after all, you probably feel pretty darn sure about the value of your work. But, as it turns out, lots of people are uncomfortable about putting their understanding of the data out there. “What if I’m wrong? What if I don’t have enough information?”


Myth #1: Data Stories Must be Unbiased
This past Tuesday, the Academy participants talked about how uncomfortable it can feel to boldly assert the take home message of a graph, i.e., what they believe the data are saying.  Because we are steeped in a world that talks a lot about science, there’s a tendency to feel like you need to present raw data, a tentative interpretation, and then allow the audience to decide what it means in order to eliminate bias.

This is not true.

ALL data interpretation is biased. There’s nothing magical about scientists that makes them unbiased.

Also – you’re telling a different kind of story than scientists…


Myth #2: You Are Not Qualified to Understand Your Results
When scientists work to understand their results, they do it in the context of having created a controlled environment and having observed what happened to research participants. This is the context they are using to understand the results. They also publish the results for other scientists to look at, or even replicate. This is how we build (one kind of) knowledge about how things work.

You are not a scientist and you are not testing hypotheses.  You are a practitioner. You are building a different kind of knowledge – knowledge about what people get and how they feel about the services your organization provides.

Nonprofit staff are the experts on the (complex and uncontrolled) environment they work in and what happened to clients. Therefore, you all (and your clients!) are the most legitimate people to understand what the results mean.

Rather than publishing results in scientific journals for debate, you ensure there are multiple perspectives understanding the results – this is your Insight Team!

And, this is why it’s important to have a strengths-based, open, and curious data culture – so that anyone who disagrees how the data are being understood or anyone who has a “crazy” idea about what the results are saying, is able to say that.


Myth #3: You Don’t Need Training to Understand Your Data
You do need training in how to understand data… just like you need training to do bookkeeping or to drive a car or whatever.  No one is born knowing these things.  Fortunately, the training isn’t super difficult, and I have strategies, structures, and templates that help.


Learn more in the ImpactStory Academy!

Partnerships for Strategic Impact

At Partnerships for Strategic Impact®, I have all the tools to build out the structures and strategies you need for collecting actionable impact data; I train staff in how to use them, analyze data, and make action steps for change; I teach you to tell powerful impact stories. My goal is your sustainability: I provide just the right amount of coaching and ongoing support to ensure success.

This is within reach. It’s not harder than managing your budget. Plus, you, your funders, and the people you serve deserve to know more about the value your organization delivers.

If you’re reading this, then you’re already part of my network. Schedule some time on my calendar. There’s no sales pitch and no obligation. Just curiosity and answering your questions. I am the seasoned program-evaluation, program-development, data-storytelling consultants you need, right in your back pocket. I am here to bring order to the process of figuring out how to track and use your impact story.

– Maryfrances

Your ImpactStory™ Coach

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By Published On: April 21st, 2023Categories: Blog - Masterful impact Stories, Blog - Powerful Data AnalysisComments Off on 3 Myths about Data Stories