Data, Reporting, Analysis and Insight

We use these terms all the time, often interchangeably. As more organisations work to harness the power and potential of their data the more these words enter the vocabulary of every day life.

Working to gather requirements for data, reporting, analysis and insight, and to deliver them as outputs to my clients, it has really helped to agree what the words mean so that we all speak the same language. As a result, when we talk about each output we can ask and brief for the more important questions:

what’s it for?

who’s it for?

what will it help you to achieve?

Understanding the different outputs

  1. Data
    Raw Information
    Example: The contents of your spreadsheet or the output of a database query
  2. Reporting
    Data collected together and delivered regularly
      Example 1: What’s new? New sign ups this week
    Example 2: How are we doing? Income month to date
  3. Analysis
    Summarised and visualised data
    Example: What has happened?
    Graph comparing income from campaigns over time
  4. Insight
    Interpretation of analysis
    Example: Why did it happen and what should happen next?
      This campaign did better than others because…
    so next campaign we should use…
    or test…


SLIDE: Data Reporting Analysis Insight

There are no stupid questions

There are no stupid questions, there are only questions.

Then why do we feel nervous about asking when we don’t know?
Because we are not the question, we’re the person asking the question, and we can feel stupid. We’re not even afraid that we are stupid. We fear feeling stupid. We fear others might think we’re stupid or worse.

‘What if I’ve totally missed the point?’
‘What if this is the most obvious thing ever?’
‘I’m in the room with senior people, what if I make a fool of myself?’
‘Will asking for clarity sound like I’m criticising?’

Asking questions moves things forward. It enables clarity, it gets everyone on the same page of understanding an issue. It challenges assumptions, that’s not the same as challenging a person’s authority, it’s not personal to want to understand a situation better.

One of the colleagues I’m working on a project asks the best question and asks it often.
‘I didn’t get point you just made, can you go over that again?’
Yes, of course. And yes, it is up to me to make sure there is clarity if I’m putting something across.

“If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t really understand it.”

Who said that? Einstein? Richard Feynman? I don’t actually know, maybe nobody! But I like it and anyone doing a technical job would do well to remember it, speak in plain English and invite questions at every opportunity.

And when you get that feeling in your stomach that you have a question to ask, raise your hand, do it, it’s the responsibility of the person you ask to deal with it it’s not for you to make your questions unstupid. If there are others around you, they are probably wanting to ask the same thing, fight the fear.

Knowns and Unknowns

Known knowns – even when you’re sure of what you know, question it, and be willing to test it.

A fact is not a fact just because you’ve found some corroborative evidence that supports it. A fact is a fact when you’ve you’ve gone looking for the evidence to discount it. If you can test your hypothesis like this with impartial curiosity and a willingness to be proved wrong, you will always learn something.

Known unknowns – once you’ve defined a gap in your knowledge, ask yourself what filling that gap will achieve. What will you do then? Or is it just ‘interesting’?

Unknown unknowns – these will always surface during the search and testing of the other two.

‘We don’t know what we don’t know’. So start with what you do know.

Start with what you want to achieve.

What do you know? Are you sure?

Now name something you don’t know but want to find out. What will you do once you have it?

Focus on objectives. Test existing assumptions. Identify the gaps. Fill the gaps. Tell the story. Take action.