How can I improve my data storytelling?

Guest blog by Hannah Howes, Sussex Innovation Centre’s Catalyst scheme

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been trying my hand at a new data storytelling app. DATAacademy is an app designed to help learners make smarter use of data. The app could be used by individuals or teams in a range of professions and skill levels. From market researchers to human resource teams, semi-experts to never-before-storytellers, the app can help virtually anyone use data in a more compelling way. Learners are in expert hands, since the app has been created by Sam Knowles, a data storyteller with more than 30 years’ experience helping business, charities, universities, and governments communicate more effectively.

DATAacademy offers an in-app learning experience. While there are numerous online courses available – such as those delivered by Forage (formerly InsideSherpa) – DATAacademy’s app-based learning courses uniquely enable the user to be taught flexibly, from the morning commute to the five-minute coffee shop stop. This flexibility creates a captivating user experience that bends to the needs of your daily life. The learner may want to sit down and complete three modules in one go, or they may prefer to complete a module a week. This kind of adaptability is absent in formal in-person training or rigid online courses, providing a unique offering that I personally found both practical and engrossing.

The first course launched in-app is Data+Story, designed to improve your data storytelling skills through practice. Although I am yet to experience them, the future holds additional courses (launch date TBD), including Data2Insight, DataEthics and DataViz. Fingers crossed we don’t have to wait too long …

You may now be thinking, what does Data+Story involve? Well, the course is split into six modules, each covering one of the six Golden Rules set out in Narrative by Numbers (written by app creator, Sam Knowles). Within each module, learners can expect to hear from Sam himself, through short video clips explaining the thrust of the topic, alongside an assortment of articles, white papers, TED Talks and news stories, meticulously selected to supplement the learning content. Although this list suggests an overwhelming abundance of material in Data+Story, the variety and well-considered nature of resources means learners don’t feel swamped. Rather, the careful selections make for a diverse and interesting experience – I admit I accrued a list of reading material based on Sam’s suggestions. Sam retains learners’ attention by keeping video clips snappy, the longest being not much more than six minutes. He also talks ‘Human’ in place of technical jargon.


As well as an extensive array of material, each module also includes practical exercises and some quizzes thrown in for good measure – just to check you’ve been paying attention. These practical exercises are the foundations of Data+Story, where you can really dig your teeth into the key lessons. Naturally, you get out what you put in. I strongly urge learners to give it their best in order to benefit most. Some practical exercises build upon previous tasks, for example, you may be asked to go back and amend to improve your previous submission based on a specific lesson. This progressive structure is one of my favourite elements of the course. Not only does this alleviate pressure to conjure up new ideas when you’re not feeling creative, you also truly do gets a sense of personal development through reflection. This allows for evolutionary improvement on each assignment that would have been harder to capture if every exercise was on a different topic.

The true shining star of Data+Story is the distinctive feedback mechanism. For every practical task you submit, your personally-assigned DATAacademy educator will be there to provide tailored feedback. This could be delivered through text, audio, or (as most common in my experience) video. The message is one of encouragement, highlighting areas where you have done well, as well as areas for improvement. Unlike some empty feedback I’m sure we’ve all endured at some point, the DATAacademy experts expand on how improvements can be made to make your data storytelling more powerful yet, as well as why such changes would be effective.

Receiving feedback like this is rare. Previous online courses I have undertaken provide mock examples in place of feedback, but these don’t take into account the personal differences and alternative perspectives we all acquire. Who’s to say yours is wrong just because it doesn’t match the mock? Yet the user adopts a sense of failure in such instance. Data+Story creates an ongoing conversation with your assigned expert educator, somewhat replicating a student/tutor relationship. This is an irreplaceable asset of DATAacademy that ought to be adopted more widely.

In summary, Data+Story takes you on a journey through the six Golden Rules. ‘Journey’ really is the most appropriate term here, for – much like Harry Potter and Luke Skywalker on their respective quests – development and growth are central to the fabric of your experience. I have learned about the innate importance of data in storytelling, subsequently using my new skills in white papers, blogs, and client projects. Whatever the learner’s profession, Sam’s tips and tricks are adoptable in all walks of life – this isn’t just for market researchers or copywriters.

If you’re yet to be convinced that Data+Story can improve your influential grasp, there’s only one way left to reach you – download Data+Story today and try it for yourself.