The other day I was researching how to make data sexy. Because measurement is so important to communications spending plans, and because everyone needs demonstrable ROI, I was looking for ways to bring stats alive. My expectations were simple: I was really thinking about visualising data - interactive maps, real-world bar graphs, novel approaches to pie charts and the like.
Then I stumbled across a Wired article from December 4, 2008. It went like this:
"Sometimes, a battlefield commander gets so much information, it's hard to make sense of it all. So the Pentagon's far out research arm, Darpa (Defence Advanced research projects Agency - birthplace of the internet), is looking to distill all that data into 'a form that is more suitable for human consumption.' Namely, a story."
The author of this tale, however, would be a series of intelligent algorithms that can pull all of this information together, tease out its underlying meanings, and put it in a narrative that's easy to follow.
If it works, Darpa hopes to have this Experience-based Narrative Memory (EN-Mem) system make "complex situations simple, understandable, and solvable."
The idea is that a computer system captures the basic interactions of characters and the dynamics of their motivations but also fills in details not explicitly mentioned in the data itself. In this way it creates storylines - which must be familiar enough to the decision maker to be applicable the real situation they're dealing with.
This is my idea of a very good thing - data as story. And it also reflects a constant theme in the world of messages and content - everyone needs a good story. To tell and to hear, and be able to re-tell.
The "storytelling" angle on communications and engagement has gone a bit quiet recently as everyone started talking about social media and creating conversations. But obviously storytelling is central to this.
We're doing some work for a client whose business rests to a large degree on gathering and monitoring data. The client has identified, quite rightly, that while their work is excellent, it carries little emotional punch. Our job is to help them make what they do feel more human and engaging. Basically, they're looking for a good story to tell - and for thier audiences to hear.
Darpa realised that battlefield commanders needed this too - even if they're getting a computer system to do it. I'm hoping that the idea will catch on. A bit like the internet...