Friday, January 15, 2010

Using Social Math to Help Your Data Tell Your Story

I'll admit it.  I'm the kind of person who gets goosebumps of excitement over a well-formatted data table. Pages of charts and graphs make me feel like something important has been communicated. But most people aren't like me.  In fact, pages of charts and graphs make eyes start to roll back into most peoples' heads.

This isn't just an evaluator's problem. Whether you are a school administrator or a non-profit executive director, if you have a story to tell, you need to find a compelling way to tell it. And you need to speak in a language that the people you want to hear your story will understand.

Social math can help you do that. Social math is a way of presenting data that connects it to something people can easily understand and links it to a broad social purpose.

I was at an evaluation meeting for the past couple of days, and one of the best sessions gave some great examples of social math that I'd like to share with you (thanks to Adrienne Dealy of the Communication and Social Marketing Center for these examples):

You could say, "Each year, over 91,000 infants under 1 year old are victims of child maltreatment." That sounds like a big number, but is it?  What does it mean? Using social math approach, you would add, "If their cribs were placed end-to-end, they would stretch for 78 miles." 

Wow. Now I get it.

Here are some more examples:

"Before passing legislation to regulate gun sales, there were as many gun stores in California as Burger King restaurants."

"If every person in the U.S. were to change their page margins from the default 1.25" to .75", we would save a forest around the size of Rhode Island each year."

"A gasoline refinery emits 6 tons of pollutants per day - enough to fill 25 balloons of toxic pollution for each child in a mid-size town."

When you're sharing your data, whether it is data documenting your need for assistance or data documenting your success, think about how you can make it meaningful for your intended audience. Remember, it's about them, not you.

Now go change your page margins and save a few trees......

3 comments:

Carrie said...

I like it!

Grant Goddess said...

I'm glad you like it, Carrie. I was really impressed by the examples I heard recently, too. It just makes sense to discuss important data in a way that people can understand, doesn't it?

Miss June said...

I am challenged daily by how to translate the numbers into meaning. For example, the population of Pierce County Washington is 795225. Is there a stadium comparison I could make? How could I find it? Can you recommend websites that can do the translation? As a writer, this is important but time consuming.

About Creative Resources & Research

My photo
Woodland, CA, United States
Creative Resources and Research is a consulting firm specializing in grant writing, grant seeking, program evaluation and professional development training. We have worked with hundreds of clients including public and private schools, school districts, universities, non-profit organizations, and social service agencies throughout California, securing over $155 million from federal, state and private foundation funding sources over the past decade. Our primary grant writers and program evaluators have over 50 years of combined experience in the education and social services fields. At CRR we prefer a personal approach to the clients we work with; by developing long term relationships, we are better suited to match client’s needs with available funding sources. We provide a variety of services to help assist you, including grant writing, evaluation consulting, professional development opportunities, and workshops.