The storytellers of .id: we love a good yarn
As we prepare for the main release of 2016 Australian Census data next week, I thought I’d take the opportunity to gaze forwards and talk about something that will happen after we receive the new data from the ABS… We’ll write lots of new and interesting stories for you!
At .id, we are blessed with a big base of bloggers who use data and evidence to create interesting stories about many different topics. I am often struck by the way people at .id can look at a chart or table and see the story that lies within the data. It got me thinking about the art or skill of storytelling and why it matters.
Most people love listening to an urban legend, telling a tall tale or a spinning a good yarn. So why are stories so powerful? And what makes a good story anyway?
You are probably already familiar with .id’s online information tools, which provide people with an easy way of using demographic and economic information to inform strategic decision making, community planning and projects using an evidence base.
Access to information is one thing, but the ability to fashion information into a compelling story is quite another. At .id, we have a variety of different storytellers who never cease to impress me with their ability to construct a story about various places and the people who live there.
Stories of people and places
Conversations about places are never dull affair at .id – the simple question of “where are you from?” usually escalates into a full-blown discussion of the ins and outs of a place, its history, and a bunch of interesting titbits about population trends and socio-demographics. The diversity of people who work at .id provides a plethora of perspective, as everyone from population forecasters, economists, data specialists, planners and location analysts add a different dimension to the discussion.
Why are stories important?
Telling a story is a great way of conveying complex information through memorable means. The art of storytelling is complex and powerful but if I boil it down, here are some of the reasons I think stories are significant.
- Relatability: Stories bring information to life, making the subject matter more interesting by creating a personalised interaction that builds understanding with an audience.
- Visualisation: When we have large amounts of data that need to be interpreted, it can be a lot for our tiny brains to take on board, so relaying information as a story helps us cut through the complexity – painting a picture helps us comprehend and visualise information in a simpler way.
- Emotion: An important aspect of telling stories is that they invoke our emotions because they mean something to us. You can read a stack of reports but you are moved by a Ted talk. I hear men out there shifting uneasily as I say this word, which is why at .id we base all our stories on evidence. Hardcore information and facts.
- Connection: Stories can bring us together; people who have never met can be tied together by the shared experience a story creates. They bond us and lead us to the ‘aha’ moment.
- Memorability: A ripping good yarn helps us remember information, making it more memorable and providing us with knowledge about something. Even if we can’t remember all the details, the story helps us know the point.
- Reach: The power of a good story comes from its ability to be ‘paid forward’. Stories are a great way of communicating with a variety of people, to spread the word and reach more people. Stories last longer and spread further than a bunch of data.
- Transformation: Sharing a common narrative can help get people on board with a purpose. Stories are powerful – they can change our attitudes and opinions and lead to real change. Stories are convincing, helping us change our minds and often resulting in larger changes in behaviour.
So, what makes a good story?
Apart from covering off the usual ‘who, what, how, why, when, and where’ aspects, here’s some elements that make a good story.
How do you say something that piques people’s attention? Making the story personalised and relatable will help it get through to your audience. Finding an interesting angle, feeding people’s curiosity, busting a myth or challenging a commonly held view can all help the message resonate. Consider what the audience already knows or thinks they know and what you need them to know – the gap between the two often makes for an interesting story.
Ok, so sometimes a made-up story can be interesting but what better way of telling a great story than basing it on real-life events. As they say, the truth is often stranger than fiction. At .id, we are big on using evidence to tell a story. Basing a story on the right information is an important component – did you know 73.6% of all statistics are made up? While ‘alternative facts’ can portray a convenient truth (#alternativefacts), we prefer to base our stories on reliable, fit-for-purpose evidence.
It’s easy to get carried away trying to tell people the detail of everything all at once. Too much information is often overwhelming for an audience though. And waffle is the worst enemy of good storytelling. At .id, we use a question-led approach to ensure our stories stay on track, answering the important questions that get to the heart of an issue.
Following on from staying focused, keeping it simple helps our tiny brains comprehend the world. Simplicity is often a difficult element to achieve. We live in a world where we are bombarded by information from the moment we wake up, so keeping it simple will help the message be remembered through the clutter. Politicians and advertisers do this well – you will likely recall their catch-cries and slogans, breaking down complex issues and information into memorable snippets and sayings – “stop the boats”, “once you pop you can’t stop”, “make America great again” – bite-sized messages you can easily remember, recall and relay later.
Issues are often complex, with many different angles and perceptions. An important element of good storytelling is the ability to provide context – in relation to what, when and where? Context helps ground a story and explain the relationships between different aspects. It helps us relate and understand. So, it’s ‘big’, but in relation to what? Perspective is an important element of the stories we tell at .id. We use locational benchmarking to compare places and time-series information to understand the significance over time. It’s big now, but it was bigger 5 years ago and the neighbouring suburbs are even bigger.
People need to be able to take something away from a story, the ‘so what’ – what does it all mean? Being able to articulate the point of the story and why people should care about your message is important. That’s why we usually look at what’s driving the change, if it is part of a broader trend, pattern or cycle, and what the implications are. Providing an explanation or reasons behind the story and exploring the flow-on effects helps people understand the ‘why’ and remember the ‘so what’.
I’m interested to know if you’ve found an interesting story drawn from the evidence base .id provides. Have you come across a story that has surprised you, changed your mind or broken down a common myth? If you have a great evidence-based story to tell about your community, we’d love to blog about it to help spread the word.
.id is a team of population experts who combine online tools and consulting services to help local governments and organisations decide where and when to locate their facilities and services, to meet the needs of changing populations.