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What is Data-Driven Storytelling?

FLUSH is happy to offer services helping water and sanitation providers improve their relationships and build stakeholder trust through data-driven storytelling.

But what does that mean? We get it. New terms are always created, and sometimes it’s hard to remember jargon and definitions, especially when experts disagree. Below is our explanation of what data-driven storytelling means – at least to us.

What is data-driven storytelling?

There are a bunch of definitions for “data-driven storytelling” out there. In some industries, it's about creating dashboards, analytics, and visualizations of company numbers to help leaders make better decisions. In others, it’s about crafting stories with scientific data.

To FLUSH, data-driven storytelling is about creating meaningful messages for our audiences. To do that, we need quality information and data to help us craft what we want to say. Having data helps ensure that we can make contextually relevant stories for different groups of people to care about something. This information can help us answer some fundamental elements before we start putting our story together, and ensure we know why we’re putting a story together in the first place.

What kind of data do we need to tell an effective story?

Data we need to develop a story should answer the following questions:

  1. To WHOM are we telling the story? Having basic information about our audience lets us understand their context and what they care about. We want to have a specific audience in mind to tailor our messaging to them. And no – the “general public” is not really an audience.

  2. WHAT information is important to share? We need to ensure we are clear on what information we want to share in our stories, so they don’t go astray. You probably have experienced stories before where it wasn’t clear what it was actually about – data-driven storytelling helps prevent this.

  3. WHERE & WHEN should we share this story? Surprisingly, the time and place of sharing a story can often be just as critical as the story itself! We want to know how to best format and share our story with our chosen audience. We wouldn’t want to share a written article if our audience is illiterate, right?

  4. WHY do we want to share a story? Having a basic understanding of our goals with sharing a story can help us craft a meaningful story that gets people to care. What kinds of action are we hoping to elicit from our audience after receiving our story? It also helps us check whether we have a story worth telling in the first place.

Data isn’t only about having hard numbers and calculated statistics – some of the best and most important data for stories are the rich details we can get in qualitative data. For example, the most effective data for a story about water and sanitation isn’t always about how many people contracted diarrheal diseases, but the details of how it can affect someone’s quality of life.

Why is data-driven storytelling important?

Data-driven storytelling is key to ensuring that our messaging and communication efforts can actually work in creating the actions we want from specific people – whether it’s a funder or a water/sanitation customer. Through this system of communication, we can:

  • Build trusting customer relationships by providing information in a way that feels compelling, relevant, and engaging for our audience;

  • Improve community and government buy-in (and increase investments and revenue streams) by sharing information in understandable ways that convince an audience to act a certain way; and

  • Grow influence beyond existing service boundaries by allowing our audience members to share our stories consistently with their networks.

Basic steps of data-driven storytelling?

With data-driven storytelling, we apply a human-centered design approach to communicating with others. Below are some graphics to show you the steps in basic data-driven storytelling, with examples from water and sanitation services.

Five simple steps for water & sanitation service providers to follow in data-driven storytelling (Credit: FLUSH)

How can FLUSH help clients create data-driven stories?

Data-driven storytelling is what FLUSH does. We help create compelling stories for our clients by following a simple framework in our projects:

FLUSH's consulting service framework (Credit: FLUSH)

A narrative of this framework is below:

  • We help service providers clarify their goals for engaging with different audiences.

  • We review with the service providers what data they have (or need) to create stories worth telling. This could include market research efforts, developing data systems, or assessing and improving their performance data systems.

  • Co-developing compelling stories to share that will help convey calls to action – from investors financing their efforts to consumers changing behaviors to improve their service experience. This is done through direct consulting services and facilitating trainings.

  • Designing and co-implementing achievable and practical marketing and communications strategies for service providers over the short- and medium-term. FLUSH always gives people practical action steps in their community during events that people have repeatedly praised us for providing.

  • Share and test stories with the public through entertaining educational events.

Want help crafting some better data-driven stories for your customers, investors, or stakeholder groups? Reach out to FLUSH – we’re happy to help!

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