We are, each of us, data points in an unlimited number of data stories. These stories can be told using charts, maps, and graphs. Depending on the topic, you might be a data point lost in a crowd of other points (in other words, you are in the norm) or you might be hanging out on the fringe (aka an outlier). Either way, you hold valuable information that the chart, map, or graph cannot tell on its own.
Let’s say that you’re a dot on a scatterplot. A scatter plot uses horizontal and vertical axes to plot data points. They show the relationship (or correlation) of one variable to another. A scatterplot might show the amount of time spent in a program—say an employment training program—on one axis and an intended program outcome—say current wages—on the other. Each point is a participant in the program.
Of course, you would hope to see that wages increase as duration in the program increases, at least to a certain point. But what if that’s not the case? That’s when it’s good to get the data points' points of view. Share the scatterplot with a few participants with different durations in the program and at different wage levels and ask: "Why do you think the data looks like this?"
They are going to share their personal experiences, their understanding of causes and effects in their own lives. And these stories will help you to understand general trends across all of the participants in the program. Perhaps one will tell you that he dropped out of the program several times when he gained new employment, which reduced his time in the program but also increased his wages. This insight, along with insights from other individuals (either collected informally or through a survey) can lead your organization to program reforms which, in turn, change trends in your data.
See other data tips in this series for more information on how to effectively visualize and make good use of your organization's data.
Images created by Ilaria Bernareggi and n.o.o.m. for Noun Project.