Any time you use data to convey something, you are using it to tell a story. It might be:
- In a conversation with your colleagues
- In a quarterly presentation for your board
- In a formal program evaluation report
- In an annual report to constituents
- In a status report to funders
Storytelling with data is powerful, and it comes with an ethical imperative. Data can be easily manipulated to tell a story that is not there, or to minimize a story that is. It is important to start with the data and let it tell you the story, instead of crafting your story ahead of time and only selecting the data that supports it. For example, if you present a summary of a program evaluation that only highlights the successes and aspects of your programming that people liked, and does not include the components that came up short and revealed areas for improvement, you are not telling the full story.
Charts can be deceptive. It is important to convey your data in formats that are accurate and to a reasonable scale. The two charts below use the same data. The chart on the left looks like there is a significant difference between two data sets, while the chart on the right looks like there is a small difference.
What sets these two charts apart? The scale. By changing the scale, the left chart has overemphasized a difference that is not really there.