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Why You Should be Humanizing Your Data

Humanize your data. See the lightbulb effect. People who weren't interested in charts and analytics suddenly realize what the data can do for them. They begin asking "I wonder what the data says?" and you make the transformation into a truly data-driven enterprise.

Kitty Kolding
Kitty Kolding

There are dozens of tools to manage the colossal stores of data riches we're all blessed with: analytics platforms, dashboards, visualization tools, business intelligence software, data management platforms, data integration sandboxes.

And they are brilliant tools – intelligently designed, customizable, equipped to manage astonishing quantities of data and glean exceptionally valuable insights from them in a flash. 

But something’s wrong: no one is using them. 

OK, not no one. Analysts, BI specialists and data scientists are using them a ton. But what about the rest of us mere mortals? All that time and money spent to bring the data together, pipe it into these intelligent tools, democratize access to the data for everyone, and yet we still see low engagement with even the best tools and platforms. What gives?

We believe there’s a “last mile” problem in analytics and data, and that at least part of the solution is to humanize it. 

Humanizing data – to us – is fairly simple to understand. At a high level, it means taking complex data, analytics and findings, and reworking them so that they’re easily consumed by people who are not analysts, technologists or scientists. In other words, the rest of us. 

Why humanize data? Because people who aren’t already way into data simply do not make time in their workdays or their brainspace to go digging around your dashboards, no matter how amazing they might be. 

If you get one salient point from this article, it should be this: unless it is their job to do so, no one cares about your dashboard. They aren’t going to spend their free cycles poking around your screens, hoping to find something useful. Humans really don’t work that way. 

What they DO care about is being informed, successful, insightful and on top of their area of focus. They want the results of your analytics – they really do. But the way it’s presented and the places they have to go to get the data they need just don’t work for them. That yawning gap – the space between your tools and the rest of the company who needs the data but isn’t getting it – defines this “last mile" problem.

So to make sure your dashboards and analytics tools truly engage and inform your colleagues across the organization, it’s critical to “finish” those materials by humanizing it. This ensures that your users have the insights they need, in a format that works for them, and that shows up when they need it. 

At a high level, humanizing data consists of a few steps:

  • Conducting an Audience Study so you’re sure you know who you’re talking to and what they care about. Taking the time to understand their learning style, terminology, appetite for complexity, and their actual needs for frequency of delivery.
  • Distilling the data you’re planning to present so that only the most relevant and high impact findings are presented. More does not equal better. Better is what matters to the person or group you’re engaging, and can directly help them be more successful.
  • Visualizing the data by taking it outside your dashboards to allow you to make one or two central points – not 10. Tools like Tableau, Qlik, PowerBI and the rest are fabulous for synthesizing tons of data and pushing insightful analytics into slick and powerful dashboards. But they cannot deliver custom-sculpted materials that are carefully designed for non-analysts to tell a very specific story. You, however, can.
  • Creating a Narrative. It’s important to have excellent visualizations. But explaining that data, using plain spoken language that is free of jargon and unnecessary complexity, is the other half of a well humanized data presentation. Make it absolutely clear what the data says, why it matters, what the action steps are or could be, using words and examples is critical. Make the data a now thing, not an "isn't this interesting to know" thing.
  • Doing a full Design pass on the materials. Treat your data presentation materials like you’d treat sales or marketing materials to your biggest, picky-est client, with an eye toward overall design, length, format, sequence and overall and visual design. Don't get stuck on Powerpoint as your only medium, either. There are *many* compelling ways to present data and engage potentially reluctant users.
  • If there’s no presentation meeting to discuss your data, then it’s on you to Deliver the materials to your users on a schedule, or at a specific day and time, and in a channel, that is ideal for them. Do NOT expect them to come looking for it. “If you build it they will come” does not work in this instance. People who are not explicitly paid to consume your data will not spend any of their time looking for it. Take the initiative to put it directly in their hands, where they want it, when they want it and in a format that works with the way they work.

When we help clients begin to humanize data, we truly see the light bulb effect. People who previously had no real interest in all those charts and numbers suddenly see what the data can do for them. Once that data is made personal, consumable and relevant to their success, everything changes. That's how you stimulate the curiosity you need your users to have, so that before they make a decision and embark on a project they ask themselves, "I wonder what the data says".

Humanizing data is the spark that ignites the transformation of a typical company into a truly data-driven enterprise.

To learn more about humanizing data, contact me:, or ask about our Humanizing Data workshops.

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