Data Needs Stories

I was at an event last week at which the CIPD launched a piece of research called: Volunteering to learn : Employee development through community action

This piece of work is itself part of Learning to Work – a programme led by the CIPD to promote the role of employers in reducing youth unemployment. In my experience – the gap between school and work is a big one, and I think the role the CIPD is playing here is one of the most exciting and important things I’ve seen and experienced from the institute. I encourage you to take a look and if you’re not already supporting this good work – try to find a way to do so, please.

Back to the event. We heard from a number of people in business who are supporting this work and research through skills based volunteering programmes. I found a lot of what we heard was very heavy with data. Talk of the impact on, and measurement of, among other things:

  • Engagement scores
  • Wellbeing
  • Desire to remain at the company
  • Networking
  • Social and environmental awareness

And then we heard from Simon Collins. Simon works for Caterpillar and he too was there to share his experience. Simon spoke about the importance of skills based volunteering from several perspectives:

Firstly Simon was open about how it fits with his own career choice in talent development. He spoke briefly about his own experience as an unemployed post grad, ‘a scary time’, and he talked about how, as a parent, he observes a lack of career guidance and advice in the world of educationHe reflected on how the value of any advice given is often linked to the enthusiasm of the advisor.

Simon spoke to us about the vulnerability that often comes with being out of work, the vital rebuilding of confidence that skills based volunteering can have, and a lovely observation that this kind of volunteering is about helping people see they have something to offer. Simon sketched out a quick tale of someone he spent time with who felt that because he had no ‘work experience’, he therefore had no CV as such. In conversation it transpired that the person had a lead role in a project at University to develop, launch and sell a product. The project had exceeded its targets and Simon rightly suggested that this project was a great example of real work, and something relevant and useful to build on. Simon told his story in a much more compelling way than I am currently relaying it to you – and nevertheless the effect of his story has stayed with me. There were figures quoted by people for many of those data points I referred to earlier, and I can’t recall a single one.

In conversation with someone afterwards I was suggesting that we should hear more stories – fewer numbers. I was reminded by the person I was speaking with that the numbers help some people to make the case for volunteering and social responsibility in general. Ideally – I see these kind of activities sitting in the ‘right things for the right reason’ box, and yet I appreciate that businesses have to understand and allocate resources to meet needs.

So why am I writing this blog today? Two main reasons. First and foremost because I want to do my bit to highlight the excellent work the CIPD are leading on here. And second – to serve as a reminder that data needs stories. I’m 86.7% more convinced of that now than I was when I started writing this.

7 thoughts on “Data Needs Stories

  1. broc edwards

    Nice, Doug. What we often forget is statistics can never describe the individual, but individual experiences can help describe the statistics. And, no matter how common the experience, it’s amazing how often we feel alone and isolated in our challenges. There is so much power in knowing that others are having the same challenges and the same emotions.

    Reply
    1. Doug Shaw Post author

      Thanks Broc – this is a lovely, helpful comment. I’m with a client tomorrow and we are working on community development within their business. I’m going to quote you to help get some story telling started. Cheers – Doug.

      Reply
  2. Julia Briggs

    Lovely blog. Years ago I was part of a team running career seminars for mid to late teens on Saturdays (for free)….and even with the most privileged kids, they were overwhelmed and under-confident about their abilities. So much potential so little guidance. (Huge opportunity here for all sorts of stakeholders).

    If you look at the great Ken Robinson, the bigger issue is what we are teaching kids, what we value and what we (employers) need – not one element ties up with the other. Watch his very funny TED Talk if you haven’t already. http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity?language=en

    I know your story was about stories really – but the burning issue for me is lack of coherence and the waste of opportunity around education and work – and the waste of potential for young lives.

    Reply
    1. Doug Shaw Post author

      Thanks for your story Julia. I’m fascinated by the coherence notion, and I’m tempted towards it too. And yet I am conflicted, for I’m not sure that we want a future that looks like the recent past, at least from a management/leadership perspective. And so I wonder – how can we combine coherence and dissonance usefully, so that the potential you mention – can develop?

      Thanks also for the video link – I’ve seen it many times and it’s always useful to get a reminder.

      Cheers – Doug

      Reply
      1. Julia Briggs

        Blimey Doug – big one! Agree entirely that we should be more radical and not just bend the future to blend easily with the past. Don’t start me on my fantasy ‘If I ruled the world…’

        Reply
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