100 is meaningless by itself. Is it big or small? Depends on the context – football (soccer) or basketball or cricket? Age? Daily wage? Blogpost views? Cost of bubblegum or a pair of shoes? Percentage increase or decrease?
Context gives meaning.
It’s one the reasons targets often are meaningless by themselves. If 100 people read my daily blogpost, would that be good, bad, or better than last year? Only when you know what last year’s numbers were, can you say if it was better.
We often forget this with data. We forget to pass along the context. And while the context may be understood by those who initially capture the data, many others don’t understand the context.
This is true in many areas of life. If you come to our property today, it will still look partially derelict. However, in comparison to 12 months ago it has been transformed. I can run a mile today without stopping but in comparison to a few years ago when I ran a half marathon, it is poor. However, when a ran a half marathon in under 2 hours, my fastest mile was the warm up ‘jog’ pace of Mo Farah. A 100 blogpost views is a great day for a blogger just beginning, but not great numbers for Seth who’s been blogging daily for over a decade. January 1 is simply another day, but we have given it enormous meaning by calling it the first day of the year. (We could have chosen April 12, but we didn’t)
Data without context is often meaningless. And it’s how bias and oppression get in. Data with context is often full of meaning. It can help us understand and ‘see’ the world in a new light.
So what are your numbers? What data is important to you? Your project? Your organisation? And most importantly, what is the context of the numbers and the data?