Data storytelling is the ability to effectively communicate insights from data using narratives and visualisations. In other words, it is the concept of using stories and visual representations of complex data and analytics to help tell a story, inform and influence a particular audience.

According to Harvard Business School, there are three key components to data storytelling:

  1. Data: Thorough analysis of accurate, complete data serves as the foundation of any data story. Analysing data using descriptive, diagnostic, predictive, and prescriptive analysis can enable the audience to understand its full picture.
  2. Narrative: A verbal or written narrative, also called a storyline, is used to communicate insights gleaned from data, the context surrounding it, and actions you recommend and aim to inspire in the audience.
  3. Visualisations: Visual representations of the data and narrative are useful for communicating its story clearly and memorably. These can be charts, graphs, diagrams, pictures, or videos.

Humans have always told stories to communicate with others for survival and record accounts of daily life. While methods of storytelling have come a long way, its psychological power still holds true. The brain’s preference for stories over pure data stems from the fact that it takes in so much information every day and needs to determine what is important to process and remember and what can be discarded. When someone hears a story, multiple parts of the brain are engaged, including the areas that control language comprehension, process emotional responses and engage empathy. When multiple areas of the brain are engaged, the hippocampus—which stores short-term memories—is more likely to convert the experience of hearing a story into a long-term memory. Rather than presenting people with a spreadsheet of data and giving them numbers and statistics, using data storytelling can evoke an emotional response on a neural level that can help ensure the important points are remembered and acted upon.

The data storytelling services created within the EMERGREEN project are designed to engage, inform and actively change the behaviour of citizens, by providing them with enhanced capacities to contribute to making their communities more sustainable.