I was meeting with a funder last week, and they were asking me to confirm they were making good data-driven insights. They were not feeling clear about exactly what an insight is.
These are super smart and insightful people, so they can’t be the only one wondering this. For all you co-wonderers – this blog’s for you!
Definitions of “Insight”
Merriam-Webster defines insight as the power or act of seeing into a situation.
Gary Klein a prominent psychologist and author who writes about decision making, says an insight is an “unexpected shift in the way we understand things.”
I know this because one of my favorit data storytellers, Brent Dykes, quotes Dr. Klein while explaining about how an an observation is descriptive (and makes you go “mmm”), while and insight is explanatory (and makes you go “aha”).
No Matter What You Call it, Insights Lead to Action
Step 1 – Understand what’s happening with your data.
Once you have your data – you have to graph it. Without graphing your data, it’s really REALLY hard to understand it.
For example: “92% of people were agreed that they learned a lot from the workshop. This is down from 98% last quarter.”
Step 2 – Create knowledge by asking “why” that is happening in your data.
As your Insight and Learning Team looks at your graphs, they notice things. Some things (maybe most things) they just notice – it’s nothing interesting – it’s nothing new.
But, interesting or new things lead to “The 3 Why’s.” In these cases, the Team works to figure out the root “why” of the interesting data.
For example: “Why [#1] are people agreeing less that they learned a lot out of the workshop?” (Maybe because we had a new instructor.)
“Why [#2] did the new instructor get lower ratings?” (Maybe it’s because they were less familiar with the material.)
“Why [#3] were they less familiar with the material?” (Probably because the supervisor is out sick and didn’t get to train the new instructor as thoroughly as they would have.)
Step 3 – Take Action
Once you are knowledgeable about what needs to be adjusted – you on your way to even more success!
For example: Let’s get the new trainer some more practice!
So What’s the Actual “Insight”?
You might call it an INSIGHT that you noticed that the ratings were down (aka observation of the data).
You might call it an INSIGHT that you figured out why the ratings were down (aka explanation, aka root cause).
You might call it an INSIGHT that you now know what you need to do to solve the problem (aka conclusion, aka recommended action, aka next steps).
It actually does not matter what part of all this you call the actual insight.
What matters is that you’re looking at your data, understanding it, creating knowledge, and moving forward – by moving people to action.