Telling tales with data

Apparently, we’re living in the age of data, so I’m learning statistics at Sebastian Thrun’s brilliant Udacity.com.

It’s not that I think that data can tell any story, or answer any question, it’s just that its link to maths has put me off before. I felt it was time to do something to give me a deeper understanding of how to find a story in numbers to add to my experience researching and finding insight using cultural tools.

Data’s always been around, but perhaps today the availability of data has given it either a real power, or a perceived power like never before. Yes, data can reveal choices. Not just the “who”, “what” or “how many”, but sometimes the “where”, “when” and even “why” of millions upon millions of choices taken globally every day.

Look behind the data and you can see stories that reveal choices taken in the past, those likely to be taken in the future, and even these choices’ consequences. But data has limits. Maybe some things are better explored and explained with a good old-fashioned yarn.

So, in honour of the good people at Udacity, and gathered from data sources as diverse as Facebook Likes, Ikea product information, school reports, Forestry Commission and Woodland Trust surveys, Tesco Clubcard data, and Vodafone records, here’s one of my daughter’s favourite stories told with graphs.