Yesterday, I was working at the HUB – a shared office space in London – where I overheard a conversation which was relating a story about how people process information. Apparently, two colleagues from the same business attended a business development workshop of sorts during which they needed to discuss their budgets. One colleague went to work creating a spreadsheet, while the other began drawing different sized boxes; then they shared their work with each other. I listened as the spreadsheet colleague reflected on how astounded he was that someone would create a budget not using a spreadsheet as their starting point. There was no negativity in his voice, but rather pure intrigue. Their budgets had the basically the same numbers, but the starting point and presentation of them was radically different.
Over the past few years, we’ve had lots of discussions about information management in humanitarian aid situations, some of which have resulted in a project I’m working on to try to make sense of the almost endless stream of information after a disaster. In most organisations, information is managed and shared through a number of different methods – Word documents and Excel Files – both of which tend to be sent around by email or managed poorly on some form of a shared drive, skype or other messenger chat functions, meetings, maps on walls (sometimes digitally), conference calls, photos, and of course face to face interactions. However, when it comes to formal communication, we tend to revert to very lengthy & wordy narrative documents and large excel files of numbers. We also tend to have one style of formal communication that is sent to everyone (if our systems work). This often results in the operations team receiving the same report as the technical team, marketing team, finance team, communications team, and senior leaders. We share the same information in the same format with different departments regardless of their needs or how they will use or process the information.
For a long time now, we know that adults process information and learn in four main different ways – visually, auditory, read/write, or kinesthetically – VARK for short. It seems very rare that we consider this in how we present our information, we tend to only focus on those who learn through reading/writing. In addition to asking people what information they want/need, we need to also be asking them, how they would best like to receive the information. This simple little question, can help improve the usability of the information.
Earlier this week, Microsoft posted new developments in the integration of Excel and Geoflow, which can help us presents statistics in many different ways. Read the article, watch and listen to the video here. While it’s far from perfect (what product ever is perfect?), it could be wonderful tool for helping more people make sense of data in new ways. Of course, there are lots of other products out there that do this, but I wanted to highlight this one today.