Community Indicators for Your Community

Real, lasting community change is built around knowing where you are, where you want to be, and whether your efforts are making a difference. Indicators are a necessary ingredient for sustainable change. And the process of selecting community indicators -- who chooses, how they choose, what they choose -- is as important as the data you select.

This is an archive of thoughts I had about indicators and the community indicators movement. Some of the thinking is outdated, and many of the links may have broken over time.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Data, Storytelling, and Making It Stick

I hope you've had a chance to read Katya Andresen's blog on non-profit marketing. She's got some wonderful resources there on messages.

In a series of articles reviewing the book Made to Stick, she retold a story from the book about statistics, starving children, and a philanthropic appeal. You need to read this story. (You probably will then want to read the book!)

The point the book's authors, Chip and Dan Heath, made (and Katya re-emphasized), is one I think community indicators folks ought to think long and hard about.

It wasn't just that telling stories are more powerful at eliciting emotional responses than sharing statistics. We already knew that.

It was that sharing statistics with the story lowered the giving rate, and that even thinking analytically lowers people's emotional responses to information.

As the authors put it:

Statistics shift people into a more analytical frame of mind. When people think analytically, they are less likely to think emotionally.

The problem is that the emotional response is what gives power to the story -- it's what inspires action. And community indicators projects are about action, if nothing else -- we measure all this stuff because we want to know, and we want to make things better, and then we want to know if things got better. That's information that an anecdote doesn't give us.

At the same time, I've seen (and I'm sure you have too) numbers that became the story, numbers that moved people beyond a sad event, numbers that were the "sticky" part of the message.

So how do we tell stories with data in ways that connect to people both analytically and emotionally, without turning off the ability to tap into the action-oriented part of them?

We have much better tools for displaying data, and we've been sharing them on this blog. But take a look at one more article about storytelling: A Case for Web Storytelling, by Curt Cloninger.

Curt makes the point that with all the technology, we end up with "great handwriting, lousy narrative." It's more than sharing data -- it's storytelling. And now the Heaths tell us that just including the data makes the storytelling that much harder.


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