Top tips on data storytelling from the StatsCAN Plus team

By: Communications Community Office and Statistics Canada

As Canada’s national statistical office, Statistics Canada (StatCan) provides Canadians with key information about Canada’s economy, society and environment.

Empowering citizens with data requires some finesse in how that data is communicated. After all, data is more than just facts and statistics. Data describes the country we live in, the people who live here, and the things that affect their everyday lives.

That’s why StatCan launched the StatsCAN Plus website in 2021 as a first step toward modernizing the way data is made available to Canadians. It focuses on communicating data through short articles that incorporate plain language and visualization tools.

We asked StatsCAN Plus writers Greg Gallagher and Duncan Currie to share their best data storytelling tips and techniques. So if you’ve ever wondered how to communicate data in ways that engage Canadians and make the numbers meaningful, read on!

What makes data storytelling different from “regular” storytelling?

Headshot of Greg Gallagher
Greg Gallagher
Writer, StatsCAN Plus
Statistics Canada

Greg Gallagher: “Data storytelling is different from “regular” storytelling in that it must center around the data, which is the main character, so to speak. Accuracy is, of course, equally important. Once those boundaries are established, the possibilities are endless!”

What can data storytellers do to make statistics interesting?

Duncan Currie: “A bit of light humour always helps when telling a story. It is also important to flesh out your story with additional context. Traditionally, Statistics Canada mostly wrote about the results of a single survey. At StatsCAN Plus we try to bring various data sources to tell a complete story. For example, when I write a story about food, I also try to quote our data on food prices, the health of Canadians, where the food is grown in Canada, how many people are involved in producing that food, etc. I always try to make Canadians the focal point of my stories.”

How do you determine which topics you will be featuring?

Greg Gallagher: “I often come up with a story idea based on anything, really – something in our regular StatCan data releases, the news, a day of note, or what folks encounter in their day-to-day lives. I then review relevant data on the topic and reach out to the subject area responsible for the data to determine if and how we can tell the story. Our Plus team and others also meet regularly to discuss story ideas and upcoming content – it really is a team effort!”

What is the most important element to account for to ensure you’re telling a story in a way that will reach all Canadians?

Duncan Currie: “I always try to place the data in the context of everyday life. For example, we have a release called the Consumer Price Index that tracks the change in consumer prices. Rather than saying the bread index moved up or down, I write “Canadians are paying on average 10% more for bread compared with a year earlier.” By talking about people and actions, rather than numbers and things, you animate your story and make it relatable.”

What real world impacts do you witness coming out of the articles you’ve released?

Greg Gallagher: “It’s really impactful for me to see our content being shared and discussed on social media platforms. Everyone from academics, business and community leaders to advocacy groups and everyday Canadians have shown interest in StatCan data and the way our articles present them.”

Finally, why is it so important to create a story around the data?

Headshot of Duncan Currie
Duncan Currie
Senior Writer and Editor, StatsCAN Plus
Statistics Canada

Duncan Currie: “A data point by itself will not resonate with your audience. You need to bring the data to life by talking about people, actions, circumstances and outcomes. You need to place the data within the context of everyday life to make it relatable to the average Canadian citizen.”

And that, in a nutshell, is what it’s all about. Canadians need context to find meaning from the data, and they need facts and accuracy to make informed opinions and decisions about the things that matter to them.

To learn more about communicating data, check out the links below!

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