Compelling Action

To inspire action through data visualization, it is insufficient to simply transform a wall of numbers into a beautiful chart or graph. A coherent message must also be delivered, through story and narrative, and with meaningful intention. This is best done by engaging with your audience in a consequential dialog. One that confirms your familiarity with and validates the existence of their pre-existing identity story.

Organizations invest great energy and resource into data acquisition and data analysis. But analysis alone does not bring about the evolution or improvement of your organization. Even adding a beautiful visualization to keen analytics does not guarantee an operational impact. We at AA believe that story and narrative, united together with accurate data, crisp visualization and a clear goal is key to unlocking the potential of your organization’s success.


Science has shown that our brains do not store experiences as isolated pieces of information. Our human brain absorbs each new experience together in connection to other, similar experiences; and then weaves each new arriving piece of information into the fabric and context of a larger internal story. It is this internal story that drives our behavior. When new incoming information arrives pre-encoded in a story or narrative of it’s own, then our brains are evolutionarily designed to process that new experience more readily, retain more of the information, and to be more flexible around changing and evolving old biases and perceptions.

The identity stories in our minds are not static.  And our memory is also quite limited. So each new experience is automatically filtered through the lens of our most primal and reactive instinct to survive.  Through dialog, with ourselves and with others, these internal narratives that shape our behavior are revisited and enhanced constantly with each new experience. Dialog is literally the instrument that enables the co-creation of new meaning, inside of the gap between differing perspectives. So when it comes to effectively motivating changes in behavior with data, the challenge is one of crafting a dialogical learning experience that combines new information and analysis together into a meaningful narrative that engages and resonates with the stories that pre-exist as part of the established identity of our audience.

Environmental Identity and Natural Resources: A Dialogical Learning Process

Environmental Identity and Natural Resources: A Dialogical Learning Process

Data Visualization

In our brain, 3 out of every 4 neurons are dedicated to the visual system. By visualizing data we multiply the human mind’s ability to absorb complex information. Data visualization enables us to make richer, deeper and faster connections between what we see in the information and the pre-existing stories we hold. By freeing the mind from cognitively expensive, mental number-crunching and comparisons, we can instead devote our energy to more efficient and valuable comprehension, understanding and decision making.

Integrated for Action

Four elements are required to create a compelling data message:

  • Goal (connection to a meaningful, specific objective in the real world)

  • Data (accurate, quality information)

  • Visualization (pre-attentive visual encoding)

  • Story (narrative and dialog)

Inspired and adapted from David McCandless’ version as published in his book “Knowledge is Beautiful”

It is only through dialog, with self and with others, that the human mind of our audience can traverse the orbit of sensing, sifting, focusing and understanding new information -- and thereby depart from their ‘first story’ -- to arrive at the necessary shift in perspective that will ultimately and intrinsically motivate a data informed action in the world.

This shift in perspective is imperative.  It requires engagement with and the activation of personally meaningful and intrinsic motivators.

At Action Analytics we use this framework of dialogical learning with the goal of data informed behavior change through intrinsic motivation as the guide to our consulting engagements.  We do this because we know that high quality data analysis alone is insufficient. Only data informed dialog, connected meaningfully through narrative to the intrinsic motivators in our audience of autonomy, mastery and purpose can change the world.

If you are interested in learning more about Compelling Action with Data, watch this video by Action Analytics Managing Director, Keith Helfrich.