Meaningful data.

Data. It evokes visions of trailing numbers magically forming into reason. Why then, so often, does data not help in our mission of improving society?

In a conversation with a CEO recently, the topic of ‘meaningful data’ arose. The words resonated.

Just a couple of years ago I sat on a panel at the World PR conference in Melbourne. My topic was ‘creating shared value’, part of which involves measurement. Next to me was the president of the Integrated Reporting Council.

What is integrated reporting?

“<IR> is a process founded on integrated thinking that results in a periodic integrated report by an organization about value creation over time and related communications regarding aspects of value creation.”

Challenging isn’t it? I mean it is undoubtedly pure joy for process junkies but most of society will cower before such screeching corporate speak. If successful reporting relies on transferring knowledge from the company to stakeholders, we better understand 1) what is meaningful to our stakeholders and 2) how to communicate for cognition and recall.

Some time ago we forgot that CSR and sustainability were not just about ‘social licence’ (brrrr, shiver) but connecting with the people who matter to our business in order to get better at what we do.

Sustainability as compliance leaves value on the table. Sustainability reporting on complicated environmental and social metrics that few people understand or care about doesn’t create much value at all.

So, when someone took the mic and asked the president of the IRC what CSR and sustainability metrics he should use in his business, I couldn’t resist.

‘You are asking the wrong person,’ I blurted, slightly ashamed. ‘Ask the people who matter most to your organisation.’

In an era of big data, we have to get better at explaining what we have found. That’s when data becomes meaningful.

And meaning is relative to the audience, not the machine.

Ask your consumers, ask your employees – even ask your analysts and shareholders – and you might find applying a GRI framework to your cleaning business doesn’t actually assist you in defining your worth, and certainly doesn’t create the dialogue needed to remain competitive.

When we develop shared value strategies for clients the first thing we do is ask consumers and stakeholders what matters to them. It’s generally a very small set of meaningful data.

Then we work out how to communicate the insight in meaningful ways, online.

Talk to us about research as engagement.