“Data governance applies to everything that we do,” shared Janice Haith, Department of Navy’s Deputy CIO. And, being responsible for complex, mission-critical initiatives such as enterprise architecture, software licensing, information assurance, data and help desk consolidation, and compliance, to name a few – means there is a lot of data to be dealt with. But, just like with any organization, IT must tell impactful stories that convey why an initiative must be undertaken and how it affects the end-user.
Those who work in the armed forces know all too well the avalanche of acronyms used every day, but acronyms don’t impart emotion, cause and effect, or urgency. So how do those in charge humanize the importance of projects in a way that garners buy-in from all necessary parties? The answer may surprise you – through effective storytelling.
6 Tips for effective data storytelling, as learned from work being done at the Navy:
1. Speak the same language – If you’re telling a story in a foreign language, no one will understand it. Definitions must be consistent among all parties. A recent audit proved illuminating, as Haith relayed “We call it an apple, the Air Force calls it a duck, and Defense…calls it a banana, right? But it’s all the same thing! We’re doing the exact same thing, we’ve just all named it differently…” As such, her group, in collaboration with others, are working to standardize taxonomies as much as possible, so that there is consensus on definitions.
2. Tell the story, thenshow the pictures – Heath Muchmore, HP’s Chief Technologist for the US Navy and Marine Corp, advocates setting the stage for less tech-savvy audiences before showing graphics. “Don’t put up a graphic followed by a story of how a serial port got compromised to somebody who’s a policy person because that’s not really going to [make sense]. Everybody’s minds are a little bit different, so the approach to the audience is [important].” Muchmore likens this concept to the familiar red / green dashboards we’ve seen so often. In today’s big data deluge, it’s often necessary to use more complex visuals, but it must be done carefully. “If you just throw a graph up there with a legend in it, if they’re going to be overwhelmed the first thing they’re going to ask you is, ‘What am I looking at?’ If you tell the story before you hit them with the graphic it really conveys the message a lot cleaner and allows the conversation to move through quicker to make those governance decisions.”
3. Develop your characters – Muchmore has “drawn up characters on whiteboards sometimes to … provide the context so that they understand where it relates to them. If they’re responsible for it or accountable to it, they need to see that…You have to set the scenario, which is to say, ‘Hey, there’s a bad hacker out there and this is the kind of data that they’re looking for,’ so we’re going to set the character. We’re going to set the scene. We’re going to say why it’s a problem, create that tension so they get it and understand it.”