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Data Stories and why we shouldn't be telling them.

There’s an axiom that we, as the self certified data experts, must ‘sell’ some of the more ethereal concepts through the power of stories (Data Governance, I’m looking at you here). Especially when attempting to engage senior leaders.

I’m coming to the conclusion it’s more of a myth.

So many times I’ve been involved with tagging specific benefits against some improved ‘data capability’, In #highereducation - you’ll see ‘as a student I’ll be able to’ or ‘as a researcher, these things will happen’. We try and tell stories to get buy in from our programmes and sometimes we succeed. But not always and not often enough. So we go back and try and imagine better stories.

Wrong end of the dog. These are not our data stories. They are theirs. Those senior leaders. Who know - far better than us - what the universitys’ medium term objectives and longer term strategies are for it to be successful and sustainable.

We turn up with our carefully crafted messaging and one of two things happens - either we appeal to a narrow audience and the remainder of the group fails to engage (because we’re desperate not to offer ‘generic’ benefits) or we’re seen as interesting but not compelling because this does not help with the 100 things facing these individuals right now!

So I’ve stopped telling and selling stories. Instead I’ll say ‘here are the objectives you tell us you care about’ (sometime public, sometimes private) and we’re here to unblock / accelerate / de-risk / operationalise these things.

That’s it. We’re not offering you anything new, we’re not selling some kind of data utopia. We are not a silver bullet. You can get away with that approach exactly once ;)

This doesn’t lack ambition. It is no difference to the finance director carefully tailoring budgets to support strategic objectives. Or the head of HR planning the workforce for the outcomes of that strategy.

No different but harder because making the links and measuring the effect is not simple. But doable. And I’d rather spend my time working on that, than yet another ‘tell me again what the ROI of Data Governance is’.

Let me finish with another axiom. “Data is an asset”. Sure, it can be. When rigorously and visibly focussed on objectives that we must meet and a strategy we must execute. Otherwise it’s an optional component.

These aren’t our stories. We don’t need to sell/tell them. We need to lock in our success with those who have already made their choices, and who need this ‘data capability’ to deliver it.

I have this sneaking suspicion this post may not garner 100% agreement! We're very interested to hear what you think though.

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