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Stories and Statistics

In case you  haven’t noticed, storytelling is in.  Way in.  Foundations are using storytelling campaigns to highlight the work of their grantees.  Hospitals are using storytelling to help practitioners improve patient safety.  Disease prevention organizations are using storytelling to more effectively engage at-risk audiences.  Everyone seems to be harnessing the power of stories.  For example, The Colorado Health Foundation recently launched The Colorado KaleidosCOpe, a statewide storytelling campaign designed to highlight the work of their grantee partners.

View one of their stories here:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ocieqmZUX0c&w=640&h=390] Most of us are instantly attracted to a good story.  If someone came up to me and asked “Story or statistic?” I’d go with the story ten out of ten times.  So why do stories matter?  Stories help us understand each other better.  They speak to our hearts.  Stories give shape to our experiences and personalize abstract issues.  Stories are about people, not numbers and statistics, and they relate the numbers and statistics to day-to-day reality.   In fact, stories are the most powerful way of illustrating the underlying relationship between numbers and the real world.  Dr. Don Berwick, head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, has said that, “Stories…are the most enduring wellspring for change.”

Of course, we all know that stories help us to better connect with our key audiences and constituents, but at times we forget.  We get lost in the numbers.  Chip & Dan Heath, authors of the  New York Times bestseller  “Made to Stick”, remind us that “… numbers inform us about the underlying relationship, but there are better ways to illustrate the underlying relationship than the numbers themselves.”

At CHI, we have long been known as credible because we offer unbiased, nonpartisan, objective data.  But the world is changing.  Offering up our data and our statistics and our charts is not enough anymore.  No matter how powerful our data is, sometimes there is nothing more compelling than a story.  We are seeking to bring thought leadership to the ways in which data inform the stories about health and health care in Colorado.

How about you? We’d love to hear how your group or organization is using storytelling.