10.3.11

Analytical Insight

In the world of analysis, it’s common to have some data and some outputs from the analysis of that data.  There might even be a structured process for that analysis (even an analysis strategy with some direction, structure and flexibility).  So usually some inputs (data), process (analysis) and outputs (data).  But the real purpose for all of this is about making something happen or change, to make things better and that’s the eventual purpose or outcome.

So here’s the overall road map for the journey, through data, analysis, and the often plentiful outputs.   Not quite so many squares as a monopoly board, but a journey all the same.


[The data components are described at…Data Provenance. And the analysis process at What a Performance, and the propensity for that analysis to be successful at Analytical Insight Index.]

The reality is that there’s a lot to get right.  That’s 12 data activities either explicitly – more worrying implicitly – need to be dealt with before the analysis.  Then 6 factors to influence the success of an analysis, including 6 components to consider in the analysis strategy.   So 24 activities by here.  Then there’s the outputs.  Much more options here but often multiple products of combinations of words, numbers and visuals.

The key point is that shortcuts, omissions or mistakes effect the validity of everything than follows.   And it’s a long one way street.  Decide to categorise in a specific way for data collection and you’re probably stuck with it ….. ask individuals their age and record in 10 year age bands, means that you can’t differentiate into 5 year bands later down the line.   Equally, poor validation means that the errors associated with that becomes implicitly (and even unknowingly) present in the analysis and messages that emerge.  In short, errors compound during the journey.   In the words of Saint Thomas Aquinas in the 13th Century… “A small error at the outset can lead to great errors in the final conclusions”.  The principle also nicely illustrated by the WW1 quote  (although of questionable authenticity)  “Send reinforcements, we're going to advance” which became “Send three and fourpence, we're going to a dance”.

So if that’s all done well enough and we have some confident outputs, it can be quite a leap from outputs to making things happen.  How do those outputs turn into outcomes?  To get real outcomes means really engaging people, and that is perhaps the realistic proxy outcome here: getting sufficient engagement to facilitate and drive those changes for the better.

That’s about getting understanding or more specifically, Insight, defined variously as
 ..... to perceive clearly or deeply
..... a penetrating (and often sudden) understanding  of a complex situation or problem;
 ..... the act or result of understanding the inner nature of things;
 ..... the power of acute observation and deduction, penetration, discernment;
 ..... Psychology…. the capacity for understanding one’ own mental processes
..... Psychiatry…. the ability to understand one's own problems.

Insight is where things can get a bit more “heart” and bit less “head”, more “art” less “science”, and perhaps more fundamentally more “internal” and less external.   Turning those physical products full of words, numbers, graphics or visualisation into personal understanding in the minds of others. But insight is more than understanding observations, more about understanding messages and meaning in a broader context. 

Those output products emerge from a broadly internal process to become external product(s), so basically inside-out.   Insight is a more about an outside-in take on that analysis. Looking at that analysis from the point of view of its context, and that of key stakeholders. 

A useful seen stakeholder approach will be to:

(1) test or challenge a message to check it’s underlying robustness - if necessary unpacking those proceeding data and analysis steps.  Could be considered as a “depth” check.

(2) check the scope of analysis to see that the relevant factors are included, and the relevant context reflected, and tested against some external wisdom or benckmark.  Could be considered a “breadth” check.

So helpful to look at those analysis products in a different way, with increasing stakeholder interest and engagement. So:

Step 1. Cover the Angles: Ensuring that the scope of consideration is complete, priorities reflected and analysis robust.

Step 2. Synthesis: Consolidating that analysis into a single integrated, coherent, even holistic, perspective.  More than simply the whole being greater than the sum of the parts, more about making connections to see relationships, influences and dependencies as clearly and simply as possible.   

Step 3. Key Messages:  Distilling the complexity and meaning to the smallest number of most strategic messages.


So in short, taking an outside-in view and make messages as simple as can be, while respecting and reflecting the underlying complexity, relationships and context.  To paraphrase Einstein “Make things as simple as possible, but not simpler.”