5 reasons to boost your data literacy for effective storytelling

Saowalak Jingjungvisut
Open Development Mekong
5 min readMay 7, 2021


Everyday we see huge amounts of information generated in various forms, like numbers, texts, images and videos. How do you make your story stand out from the crowd?

As a communications professional, I don’t have to be a mathematician but I do have a responsibility to communicate a message with clarity for readers to understand. This involves knowing how to explore, analyse, clean and visualize data: in other words, to simplify it to yield insights for better communication to get my message across.

Telling a story can be much more meaningful when supported by data-driven insights. We already have channels to reach our target audiences. We can work more to analyse data and highlight evidence to support key messages.

1. Data is not only numbers, but also powerful evidence that tells your story.

Many have the misperception that data is about numbers only, and that analysing data is a task for statisticians and scientists. In fact, data can be both quantitative and qualitative, and we can use both types to make a story stronger. For example, we can compare the numbers of households who do and do not have access to COVID-19 response measures, and also illustrate those that do not with interviews and photographs. Although communications is an art, telling a story is more of a craft when you get right down to the data.

2. Data is valued in the digital age.

Some have compared the value of data with that of oil. In business, it is becoming a strategic weapon. The efforts by the US to protect its citizens’ information has been compared to a “war on data collection”. The trends of big data, artificial intelligence, and machine learning all rely on quality data for making a decision or projecting a trend. Equally, the quantity and quality of data-driven journalism is increasing. Becoming data literate is therefore required to add value in every organization.

3. Data skills are now essential for almost every role in every organization.

We all need to be data literate. There is an increasing need for qualified individuals with the ability to interpret and analyse data, to draw insights, and to ask the right questions in the first place. For example, reporters in the age of data journalism need these skills to help fact check in order to responsibly share accurate information. For many, the first roadblocks can be about numbers and analytical skills. Don’t get frustrated if this is your case. There are many resources online to practice, including analytical tools as well as reliable data.

Read more about Thai foresters complete data literacy training to advocate for improved forest governance

4. There are many data literacy tools and technologies! Choose wisely.

For beginners, you can default to Excel on the grounds that it’s a familiar tool. A first foundation is to structure data in table format and summarise data tables by using Pivot Table. You can level up your data analysis, extraction and visualisation by using tools available online such as DataWrapper, Flourish, Tableau and Power BI. Different tools are suitable for different kinds of data and objectives, plus your own creative minds.

5. Effective data-driven stories inform a decision and call for actions.

Usually, there needs to be more than one person involved in the entire process from defining, finding, getting, verifying, cleaning, analysing, to presenting data. A user-centric design approach is recommended to help you create an effective data-driven story. Start from the beginning, ask yourself with simple questions like who is the audience of this story? what are the key messages? In addition, use data to assess problems, identify causes of a problem, measure impacts and know who is at-risk, and come up with possible solutions that drive actions from decision makers. Last but not least, it is essential to understand underlying principles of data governance, privacy, and security.

Useful references:

  • Tableau — explore the millions of data visualization examples
  • MakeoverMonday — get inspiration from a famous book
  • Kaggle — join a community of beginners to create data visualizations

Story by Saowalak Jingjungvisut (Aey), the partnerships and communication manager at East-West Management Institute — Open Development Initiative (EWMI-ODI).

This story is produced with the financial support of the European Union under the EU-funded Voices for Mekong Forests (V4MF). Its content is the sole responsibility of the Open Development Initiative and it does not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union. Special thanks to V4MF communications team and editors supporting the story editing.

Open Development Initiative (ODI), a project of East-West Management Institute (EWMI), stimulates public demand, builds coalitions, and offers a constantly evolving platform to support the transparent sharing and analysis of data to improve and inform constructive dialogue and decision making for sustainable and equitable development.



Saowalak Jingjungvisut
Open Development Mekong

communications * knowledge management * data visualization * climate change * environment issues * SDGs

More from Saowalak Jingjungvisut and Open Development Mekong