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Data-Driven Storytelling: Shaping Impactful Narrative with a Framework

Imagine you're planning a road trip. Before you set off, you map out your route and highlight key stops along the way. Using a narrative framework, such as the data story arc, is much like this process, acting as your roadmap in the journey of data story development.


While data holds great power, raw facts alone seldom drive action. Data storytelling combines art and science, merging data, visuals, and narrative into a compelling whole. It builds a narrative around data insights and desired actions, requiring both creativity and critical thinking to craft meaningful visual stories.



The word "narrative" is laid out in block letters with other letters scattered about

In this article, we'll focus on the art of narrative design as it relates to data storytelling.  We'll start by exploring key aspects of data storytelling in general, including the role of data communication planning.  Then I’ll introduce the data story arc narrative framework and show its application. As a data driven narrative storytelling framework, the data story arc can be used to map out the insights you want to communicate in a way that aligns with elements of a traditional story. 


Begin with Clarity

All effective data storytelling starts with clarity. Just like planning a road trip, you need to know your destination before you begin. Clarity of purpose guides your content, tone, and overall strategy, ensuring you stay on course and achieve your objectives.

 

Clarify Your Vision, Plan With Precision

Data communication planning involves setting objectives and understanding your audience. A precise plan helps you stay focused and achieve your goals. Start with a clear purpose: what do you want your audience to do?

 

Understand Your Audience

Tailor your communication to your audience. Different stakeholders have unique needs and roles. Audience analysis tools for data storytelling help you adapt your data story's format, detail, and delivery mode. For instance, presenting to city council differs from addressing community volunteers. Similarly, a data story for the C-Suite will vary from one for the tech team.

 

Clarify Your Intent

Before crafting your presentation, define your intent. All business communication is persuasive to some degree. Are you aiming to convince or to compel? Clarifying your intent shapes your goals and the format of your data story. Convincing might seek passive agreement, while compelling involves a direct call to action. Understand your audience's readiness to ensure feasible goals. 


Develop a Precise Plan

Concisely encapsulate your core message into a single statement. I call this the "Precise Plan" for your data story. 


Shared in Data Communication Planning workshops for Data Storytelling Essentials, the Precise Plan sets a clear direction. It combines your message goal along with your intent.

 

The following is an example of a single statement Precise Plans that captures the intent of the data story to be created.


  • To compel our Senior Administration that our telehealth implementation has increased access to healthcare services, particularly in underserved communities, highlighting the need to invest further in virtual care solutions for enhanced patient experiences


Developing a precise plan in the form of a single statement for the creation of your data story presentation is the goal of data communication planning. You can learn more about developing a Precise Plan by reading this related blog post:

 

 

Data Narrative: A Data Storytelling Essential

Narrative is the key that unlocks the potential of data visualization tools, transforming them into compelling data stories. By providing a clear beginning, middle, and end, stories offer structure and coherence. They illustrate cause and effect or a sequence of related events in a way that resonates, making the data engaging and relatable for the audience.

 

A business professional works at a white board planning a data story, the points at a sticky note

While data alone can reveal important insights into business operations, practices, and experiences, it often lacks the emotional and contextual depth to truly connect with stakeholders. Raw statistics can feel detached and may not fully communicate their significance.

Stakeholders might struggle to immediately understand the impact of these numbers.


By shaping your data along a narrative arc, you bridge the gap between abstract figures and a meaningful message that will more readily resonate with your audience.


Narrative Framework for Data Driven Storytelling

Shaping a narrative is made easier with the help of a few frameworks, providing the order and structure we expect in a story. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, a framework is “a supporting structure around which something can be built.” It offers a basic structure, plan, and system of approach, serving as a template for narrative design.


Templates help save time and offer a practical approach.  In my Data Narrative workshops for Data Storytelling Essentials, I introduce a set of story-crafting tools that I refer to collectively as "Frame-Working".


Frameworking logo


Data Story Narrative Framework #1 | The Data Story Format

Tailor to Suit:  Present the data story in the way most appropriate for the audience.

The format in which your data story is delivered will help to shape its narrative structure. The choice will be determined in large part by the needs and constraints of your audience.



Data Story Narrative Framework #2 | Data Story Typology

Find Your Story Type: Identify the type of business story you are telling.

Determining what type of story you are trying to tell with the data is another story crafting tool that helps structure the data narrative. The ten kinds of stories introduced by Tom Davenport, are not mutually exclusive of one another nor are they exhaustive, but the narrative typology provides a useful framework.



Data Story Narrative Framework #3 | The Data Story Arc 

Arc the Journey: Consider the narrative elements that will help shape the story.

The elements of the classic story arc are present in data storytelling. Whether your story is about the current state, future state, last quarter, or a Eureka discovery, use a narrative framework to develop your data story. This article will delve deeper into this story-structure crafting tool in the section below.

 

Additionally, the data story arc works great as a visual template during the data story storyboarding process.




Storytelling Framework for Data Driven Narrative

A narrative arc is a storytelling structure.  It introduces characters and setting, builds conflict and tension, and concludes with a resolution. It's valuable as it provides a clear and engaging framework for creating compelling and relatable narratives that resonate with audiences. A classic story arc based on Freytag's pyramid looks like the following:


A traditional story arc based on Freytag's pyramid
An example of Freytag's classic narrative arc

While the elements take on a slightly different feel in a data story, they have business story equivalents. Each element has a purpose in the story development from beginning to end. This is illustrated in the data story arc picture below with elements identified to reference in the table that follows.


The Data Story Arc is shown in the form of Freytag's classic narrative arc with each corresponding element identified and numbered for later reference.
The Data Story Arc with narrative elements identified

THE DATA STORY ARC NARRATIVE ELEMENTS


DATA STORY

NARRATIVE PURPOSE

numeral 1

Context

Introduce the plot, the characters, and current state

Numeral 2

Business Challenge

Create tension. Identify the problem to solve.

Numeral 3

Key Data

Develop the story with supporting information.

Numeral 4

Discoveries

Illuminate the key insight. Reveal the big takeaway.

Numeral 5

Recommendation

Guide audience to connection with business challenge.

Numeral 6

Call to Action

Leave your audience knowing the desired action to take.


Applying The Data Story Arc: An Example from Healthcare

Here is an example of a data story with the narrative elements identified. This is a scenario example from the patient experience space in healthcare leadership. The data story slide below illustrates how the narrative elements are applied. Elements are identified and keyed to the above table for reference.


Data Story Scenario

As a member of a hospital's patient experience team, you manage initiatives to enhance patient satisfaction. Among your responsibilities is overseeing community volunteers who support bedside care. A program where volunteers visit patients has notably impacted patient satisfaction scores, particularly in areas like responding to call lights and maintaining quietness at night.


Business Question: What is the impact of intentional rounding by volunteers on nursing unit patient satisfaction (HCAHPS) scores?

  

Data Story Precise Plan: Convince nurse managers on all units that providing more intentional rounding opportunities for community volunteers will increase visits, positively impacting the patient’s experience.


Data story example with illustrated points to reference
Data story with narrative elements identified

Summary

A strong data story starts with a business question and leads to data, analysis, visualizations, and ultimately a narrative. Data storytelling blends art and science. By weaving together data, visuals, and narrative elements, you can create compelling business communications that inspire action and drive change.


Data narrative is an essential part of the data storytelling process. Narrative framework tools like the data story arc help provide a structural path to follow in the development of a data-driven stories.


Before you set off on your data story journey, map out your route and highlight key insights along the way. Using narrative frameworks, such as the data story arc, is a practical approach to creating more effective data communication.

 
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Roseanna Galindo is Principal at Periscope Business Process Analysis and a champion for data literacy, the human experience in healthcare, and leaders of volunteers everywhere.

Learn more about Roseanna and her blog, The Periscope Insighter, by reading the opening post, Venn The Time Is Right

Roseanna is available for training, keynotes, and executive coaching.


Visit PeriscopeBPA.com for more information or click on the button below to schedule a time to talk


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