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Use Data to Tell an Effective Story Get The Data

Use Data to Tell an Effective Story

Over the past eight years, GtD has been providing social impact analytics to tell our clients’ stories. Effective stories of what their interventions do, who they work with, and the difference they are making to the people they serve: the homeless, young people, public defenders, refugees and immigrants. But, while we are primarily using numbers rather than words to monitor and evaluate our clients’ work, we need to take care that we are following the golden rule of story-telling.

Golden Rule of Story Telling

The golden rule is that a story should have a beginning, a middle and an end. I’ve just finished Sir Ernest Shackleton’s “South”, the Edwardian explorer’s account of his trans-Antarctic exhibition. The story opens in the months just before the First World War, with the preparations for the expedition, all the charting and planning and the resources being loaded on to his ship “Endurance”. The middle of the story is about the embarkation from Plymouth and the ship sailing into the South Atlantic, and then Shackleton leading his crew across the mountains and glaciers of Antarctica with the constant charting and re-charting of their route to safety. The tale ends with the crew’s rescue and return home. While Shackleton did not achieve his stated objective, “South” provides a compelling account of how a leader at times must respond to adversity by altering course and deploying available resources to the best effect.

Many organizations that work to make a social impact use words to tell the value of their work. This is, often done in the form of case studies that tell their clients’ stories. I recently came across such a case study in the annual report of a London-based homeless charity. It tells a compelling story about the effectiveness of their work with a client referred to as “David”. David came to London looking for a job, but soon became homeless and was found by the charity’s outreach worker sleeping rough. Having set out the “beginning” of David’s story, the case study then provided an account of the outreach worker’s role in helping David find hostel accommodation and registering him with a doctor and the benefits agency. The story ended well for David, as he found employment, a home and was returned to good health. A simple but effective story that informed the reader about the charity and how it benefits its clients.

The Descriptive Power of Numbers

Like an epic adventure or a compelling case study, we can use numbers rather than words to tell an effective story. However, before we do so, we need to get our story straight and give some thought to which data should provide the “beginning”, the “middle” and the “end”. If we get this right, then the story can follow the golden rule. So, in telling David’s story with data, we should start at the beginning and identify all those things that contributed to the delivery of the outreach service. We call these “inputs”, and they might include the number of outreach workers employed, their shifts, and the training they received.

Next, we will want to find the numbers that describe the services that David received. These are known as “outputs” and will include the number of contacts with the worker, the time taken to make referrals to the general practitioner and the benefits agency, and the contacts with the local hostel. Finally, we need to find the numbers that will describe the “outcomes” that were achieved for David, which will include changes to his employment, accommodation and health. Of course, we will be collecting these input, output and outcome data for David and every other client seen by all the outreach workers.  This will become an aggregated database of information that will tell a much broader and compelling story of who the charity helps, how it helps them and what outcomes their clients achieve.

Telling your story with GtD

Telling an effective story is essentially what GtD’s “Measure” package is all about.  It will help your organization monitor its activities and evaluate its outcomes. Contact us today if you want to learn more about how “Measure” will help your organization realize the potential of its data. “Measure” will assist you in deciding what to measure and what data to collect. It will provide you with analyses to solve problems and achieve better outcomes. “Measure” doesn’t just give you data, it gives you data to tell an effective story.

If you’d like to learn more about social impact analytics and how it can benefit your organisation, come along to our free event in Manchester on 28th April. Visit our events page to learn more and book your place.

All Aboard for a Social Impact Journey Get The Data

All Aboard for a Social Impact Journey

Jack, Jay and I were delighted to host our London social impact seminar last week. We are very grateful to all who took the time to join us and contribute their thoughts and experiences.  As with every good seminar the learning was a two-way process. So, we talked about the social impact journeys we have been travelling on with our clients but also learned from our guests’ experiences of making a social impact.

All Aboard for a Social Impact Journey Get The Data

In introducing the seminar I noted that everyone in the room had a common cause: to improve the lives of the most vulnerable people in society. Most of the attendees represented national and London-based organisations that are concerned with mental health, homelessness and young people.  As always, Jack, Jay and I were struck by the commitment and deep knowledge that our guests brought to their work.  So what, asked one attendee, was our interest in working with these groups? A great question and my answer was straightforward: my colleagues and I simply want to provide our analytical expertise to demonstrate the value of our clients’ work.

Talk about data and analyses can often seem abstract and there is a danger that it might reduce vital work with vulnerable people to a calculus of efficiency and effectiveness. To avoid that, we were able to tell stories of how our work has helped other organizations to measure their impact, learn how to improve their services and demonstrate the success of their programmes.  Sometimes our work is used to demonstrate the value of a policy change or justify funding, but often our work simply helps managers and front-line workers think about their practice and keep track of the various services and activities that they deliver.

A valid concern that arose was how to avoid treating a vulnerable person as a unit of analyses rather than an individual with real needs and wants. This concern included how best to engage vulnerable people in the analyses to ensure that they can provide their voice and experiences.  This is a very current topic in the practice of evaluation.  For GtD’s part, we ensure that our work with vulnerable people is undertaken sensitively and in accordance with ethical standards, and that the processes of data collection and analyses do not further marginalize individuals and groups who have been excluded by institutions and society at large.

All Aboard for a Social Impact Journey Get The Data

 

In concluding the seminar, I reflected that the best social impact journey is one that is taken together.  The success of the journey will require trust and mutual respect between the analysts, workers and clients. I believe that the stories we told last week provide good illustrations of how GtD forge working relationships within which to deliver expert analyses and insight.

Join us for a social impact journey seminar

Book Your Winter Getaway – Now!

The holiday season seems to be a time for journeying. As the school nativity plays remind us, the first Christmas saw the little donkey carry Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem and the “star of wonder” led the Three Wise Men to the stable. Today, thousands of British and American travelers will drive and fly home to be with family for the holidays.  And, no sooner is the festive period over, than hundreds of us will be heading to the ski slopes and beaches for a dose of much-needed sunlight. Winter is, indeed, a time for journeying.

At this time GtD’s London-based team invite you to join us on a journey. Unlike the Winter Getaways you see advertised in the press and television, we are offering to take you on a journey to understand your organization’s impact on the communities and people it serves.  At GtD we call this your “social impact journey” and we will travel with you to gather data, unlock its meaning and use it to demonstrate the effectiveness of your work.  Each of these is a stopping point on a single journey.

If you are interested in learning more, then you are warmly invited to join a free seminar on Wednesday, 8th January in London. For more details and how to book your place for this event, please go to http://bit.ly/SocialImpactSeminar.

GtD’s “Winter Getaway” doesn’t promise you golden beaches or pristine snow, but it will give you a good start to the new year as you and your organization embark on your social impact journey.  We look forward to seeing you there.