Content Discussion History

On analytics and lasagna

Storytellers are the new rockstars in the world of analytics. Tableau has named the Liberal Arts Impact as one of the Top 10 Business Intelligence Trends this year, and for good reason. As sexy as analytics are at the moment, without implementation,  it’s like writing a book that’s never read.

I’ve come to believe that successful projects are just as dependent on the product or output as they are on their story we tell about them. So how do you tell stories about analytics in a way that does not alienate those without a related background – in a way that is accessible, memorable and fun?

The use of food analogies is one way – my way – to tell these stories and make sense of it all.

It all started with a ‘crime lasagna’ – a bizarre attempt of mine to impart the criminological underpinnings of a recent(ish) project here at the City of Edmonton with an audience who didn’t have subject matter expertise.

‘Think of Risk Terrain Modeling as a giant crime lasagna. Crime is like the noodle at the bottom of the pan and the factors believed to influence the crime make up the layers on top – the sauce, the cheese, etc.’

Risk Terrain Modeling is a spatial risk assessment developed by Les Kennedy and Joel Caplan at Rutgers University. It’s wildly popular and revered in many policing circles as an effective problem solving approach.

Risk Terrain Modeling, like analytics, can be effective in making sense of and solving complex problems. The other thing Risk Terrain Modeling shares in common with analytics is that it’s not a particularly accessible topic to, well… normal people.

The uptake and response to the Risk Terrain Modeling crime lasagna signaled for me that there was something here – something that could bridge this divide. I was confident it wasn’t specific to this project or this one analogy.

What started as the crime lasagna lead to the use of pizza toppings to explain classification and grocery shopping to impart the vastness and accessibility of Edmonton’s Open Data Portal.

What I’m trying to say is that, when it comes to telling stories about analytics, food analogies have become… wait for it… a key ingredient.

Why food analogies work

1. They’re accessible

Food analogies are accessable and relatable – they speak to something we all have in common. They also arm you, the storyteller, with endless content. Content that is as diverse as the problems presented to you and the data you use to make sense of it all.

2. They’re memorable

It’s important to leave your audience with something memorable – to encourage them to reflect on or reference something you said following your presentation (a personal goal of mine). Food analogies lend themselves to this goal by simplifying and making light of what are often complex matters.

My hunch, and experience, has shown that food analogies increase the probability that your story will stick with your audience by way of making your content more *clears throat* digestible.

3. They’re fun!

Fun is important. Food analogies can help with that given the factors above in addition to their endless pun potential.

Our Chief Analytics Officer recently opened up his presentation at the Canadian Open Data Summit with the following line:

“There are two kinds of people in the world – those who like bacon, and those who are wrong.”

This had nothing to do with his presentation, in fact, he was speaking about how municipalities can leverage data and analytics. But it didn’t matter. It was fun – it made the audience laugh, lightened the mood and spurred their curiosity about the content that was about to follow.

Why it matters

The fact is, the numbers do not speak for themselves – but storytelling can help with this.

I like analytics and I like food – so this particular approach works for me. But food analogies (as perfect as they may be) are just one of many ways to tell stories and extract meaning from analytics.

Stories that are accessible, memorable and fun – stories that resonate emotionally, that make us laugh. These stories are like a Trojan Horse, stuffed with soldiers brimming with insight, ready to take municipalities by storm.

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