Assessing your Audience’s Data Fluency

April 1, 2021
April 1, 2021

This is another installment in a series of guest blogs from Juice Analytics.

When learning a language or skill, fluency describes a person’s language comfort and mastery.   Working with data requires fluency to be successful.  Similar to language fluency, Data Fluency is defined as the exchange of ideas with data as the medium. Depending on an individual’s degree of data fluency, how information is shared with them will influence their understanding and data usage.

Understanding your audience’s data fluency is important.  If users don’t understand, or worse, don’t use the information shared with them, then all the efforts of producing the data are wasted.   Assuming that it’s easier to modify the display of data for an audience vs. improving their instantaneous internalization of meaning (fluency), the first step is assessing their fluency.

How do you assess a person’s data fluency to determine how best to communicate with them?  

Here are a few quick ways to assess someone’s data fluency:

1) Are they a Data Author or Data Consumer?

Is their role to produce reports or deliver information to  others or is is their role to consume information to make decisions?   Make this assessment based on their current job role or position.   A data author will have tool (Excel, Tableau, etc.) and layout preferences as well as desire access to the details.  Accommodating their preferences will be helpful in making them successful. For authors be prepared to offer flexibility in how you convey your message.  A data consumer wants to be guided and will lean on your expertise more than an author. Less is more for consumers.   Offer fewer metrics, more text and convey the information as a story. Also, important is to  offer consumers a clear place to start.

2) How frequent do they use data?

While more people have to use data every day, understand the frequency in which they use or consume data.  Are they looking at a specific dataset all the time?  Do they regularly review a report in a Monday staffing meeting? These offer clues on their comfort with data.   If looking at data isn’t something they regularly do, plan on extra time for questions, explaining the data sources or the charts being used.  Keep it simple to make them successful.

3) How much data is shared with them?

Your audience may be pretty data savvy, however if they are swimming in data, their fluency may be impeded by all the noise.   No matter how good your French skills are, speaking to someone on a noisy subway will impact your ability to communicate.    

For someone buried in data, be succinct and give them a high-level summary.  It will be less about the numbers, but about the findings and recommendations.  Don’t give them the details, but show them how to get to it.  Most likely they’ll never look at it, but they’ll have confidence in what’s been shared with them.  For those not drowning in data, spend time probing on the top pain or interest.  Focus your efforts on those select metrics vs. the litany of things you could share with them.

4) How comfortable are they with technology?

Do they have a smartphone with apps on it? If so, many of these applications, like Google Maps, Fitbit, etc. are very data-centric.   This offers a glimpse into their comfort and mastery of technology, which can translate to their data fluency.   While mobile apps may be the majority of your audience, and clearly whether someone checks the weather doesn’t translate into their ability to understand a crosstab or pivot table, it’s more indicative to look at the exceptions.    From time to time there are folks who are  Data-phobic, that intentionally avoid or mistrust data.   A person’s lack of technology adoption, may offer a clue to someone’s resistance to consuming information.   Managing 

Data-phobia requires some skill and extra time on the quality of the data.  For these folks skew towards data displays where they might have a preference vs. reports or charts which may be more productive.  Win them over, slowly over time.

Find out more on effective data visualization from our book,Data Fluency. Excerpted here with permission from the publisher, Wiley, from Data Fluency: Empowering Your Organization with Effective Data Communication by Zach Gemignani, Chris Gemignani, Richard Galentino, Patrick Schuermann.  Copyright © 2014.

About Juice

Juice is an expert in designing and building web applications that connect people with data. We work with clients across industries including healthcare, digital advertising, and other data-rich businesses. Founded in 2004, Juice has offices in Nashville, Atlanta, and Washington, D.C.

Our people, our platform and our passion are all dedicated to building data products that people love to use. To us, this means finding better ways of capturing the excitement of finding an insight and sharing it with a colleague. This means telling a story using data that unfolds as your understanding grows. This means delivering data products that make your customers say, "Wow!"

HealthStream—which made a minority equity investment in Juice last year—was instrumental in a Juice headquarters relocation to Nashville one year ago, with both companies recognizing the potential of Juice and its products to support HealthStream’s network, including Nashville’s data-rich healthcare industry.