Having aligned one duck in my previous piece, we now continue our journey to empirical nirvana by talking about duck number two. We will call it 'Context'.
I returned to playing cricket in my thirties and at the turn of the millennium, now in my forties, I began opening the batting for my team. Staring out at a drenched square on another rained off game I proudly postulated that when I scored above 30, we won every game. Of course there is little to do when a game is about to be rained off other than stare out at the rain and argue. One of my teammates was quick to counter with "you only score well against the weaker bowling sides". Both facts were absolutely true but our perspectives, the context if you like, made us draw very different conclusions as to how my individual contribution impacted the team result.
Context requires three things.
- The first thing needed by context is something that speaks to the viewer of the information. If I’m receiving it then it has to be relevant to me or mine and it has to be something I can use to support my work or the work of my team. Involving me in the discussions about that information can go a long way to help establish ownership.
- My next thing on the list of requirements for context is the circumstances of viewing the information. The choice of device is certainly relevant but so is the audience and so is what we are trying to show. They should all influence the narrative we offer to accompany that visualisation.
- Finally, there are important parameters for any statistical information e.g. the date range covered and any filters imposed on the data making up the visualisation e.g. what items were included and what items (if any) were excluded.
In summary then, to satisfy context:
- Make it about "me"
- Ensure the device shows the data well
- Show filters and ranges to help with understanding
Applying context reduces the chance of ambiguity and also means that two of our empirical nirvana ducks are aligned: 'Content' and 'Context'. Watch out for my third and final Blog in this series ‘Capability’.
As for the cricketing story, I resolved to prove my teammate wrong. Alas, my analysis showed that teammate was absolutely spot-on. I was a bully of poor bowling. The truth did smart somewhat but the winters practice nets took on a new importance for the following season.
"I do not fear truth. I welcome it. But I wish all of my facts to be in their proper context." (Gordon B. Hinckley).
Amen to that.