How to create meaningful and actionable data experiences

As I flipped through my morning reading today, a blog caught my attention:  16 Signs that you are on the Fast track to becoming a Data Scientist.   I clicked.  Somewhere between #2 You are statistical-savvy and #10 You Dream about Data Mining, I had a little panic attack.    I have worked with people who can see meaning rise from spreadsheets like a phoenix from the ashes.  From a pile of percentages, they can craft stories worthy of a Pulitzer.  I am not one of those people.  I usually have to beat the meaning out of my spreadsheets with a rubber hose.  It’s not pretty. 

While I am not a data scientist, it is important that I use data to drive my decision making.  The same is true for America’s teachers.  The benefits of personalized learning, adaptive technologies, and differentiated instruction can only be realized if the data is there…and it is meaningful and actionable…and it can be accessed and digested easily when the teacher needs it.  Product developers need to pay keen attention to their customers’ workflow to create meaningful and actionable data experiences.    As you build your requirements around reporting, here are a few things to keep in mind.

When will be customer be likely to look at data delivered from your product?  It’s one thing to be in an office with a large monitor and a decent amount of silence; it is another thing to be on your feet in a classroom of 25 10-year-olds.  Can your product surface and display the necessary data WHEN and WHERE your customer needs it?

What is the average length of time a teacher will be looking at the data from your product?  While many of my corporate friends like to spend quiet evenings alone with their reports, few of my teaching friends do.  Between grading assignments and prepping lessons, long sessions poring over multiple reports are probably not happening.  If the average time a teacher has to look at the data your product is producing is just a few minutes, can the teacher take meaningful and appropriate action as a result of that limited data review??

After viewing data from your product, what should a teacher be able to do with that knowledge?  There are some beautiful reports out there with lots of charts and colors and alerts.  There are more filters than stars in the sky and reports that drill down farther than the depths of Death Valley.  But have you gone one step farther; have you applied the ‘SO WHAT?’ test?  Know what your customer needs to do with that data and build the reports for the action, not for the information. 

Does your data stand alone or should it be placed in context?  Teachers are taking in information about their students from lots of products.  Will your product’s data be more valuable if it is combined with other knowledge?  If so, would that potentially change the decision or action of the teacher?  If it works better in combination with other information, build your product to make it easier to see the context.

I am not on the road to becoming a data scientist.  And that is not what we want of our teachers.  We want them to do what they do best: teach.    Simply put, data needs to work for the teacher; our teachers shouldn’t have to work for their data.  Know where, when, and what action your data needs to provide and build your product to deliver an experience that aligns with their workflow.