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Hackernoon logo“Data-driven” versus “data-informed” by@markschindler

“Data-driven” versus “data-informed”

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@markschindlerMark Schindler

Evaluating semantics and the impact of each term for generating team buy-in

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Fostering a culture of data-thinking and data-practice within your company can be a daunting endeavor for many. If you are an established company with years of experience, then nudging your current team and culture towards one that includes more data and analysis can be a hard adjustment and one that takes a long time. If you are a new company, then embarking on that path with the pressure of setting the right course — while resources are tight — is all the more stressful.

Inevitably you’ll have to use language and particular vocabulary to describe these data-motivated efforts. Whether it’s internal at an all-hands meeting, or externally in job posts, two of the more common adjectives used to describe this kind of movement are “data-driven” and “data-informed.”

While seemingly very similar, there may be a difference in the perception of these two terms, and a difference in their efficacy in molding your company’s culture.

This post was created to investigate the possible differences between using one of these terms versus the other — for internal, external, current, and future purposes.

Below is a series of questions to collect information about the usage and perception of “data-driven” versus “data-informed” by readers.

Please answer in the comments section if you’re willing to contribute!

After the questions I will share my own thoughts and ideas about the differences between the two terms.

Questionnaire:

  • What is your current role?
  • How much experience do you have working with data in your current and most recent role(s)?
  • Have you, or has your company, ever used either “data-driven” or “data-informed” to describe the company to external constituents? …to internal audiences? If so, why did you choose one or the other?
  • What do you see as the differences, if any, between using the two terms in the following contexts:

…Describing the next quarter’s company focus at an internal all-hands meeting

…In a non-technical job listing

…Describing the company in a pitch to a VC

  • Is one of the terms more intimidating to you than the other? If so, why? In what context(s)?

My thoughts:

I think that the term “data-driven” can be intimidating to some people. There can be a misconception that “data-driven” means “data at all costs” or “data will determine everything.” The “driven” part implies action, and the fact that data could or would be determining that action is unsettling to less-quantitatively minded people.

I think the term is sometimes perceived as being overly prescriptive, exclusionary to non-data influences, and the basis for “machines are going to take our jobs” mindsets among naive employees. While the term is not intimidating by nature — in fact, it’s most often used in a complimentary, progressive way — it can be polarizing to those who don’t fully understand what it means.

There’s a spectrum of data experience and data IQ within each company, and I believe that for those employees who are on the less-experienced end of the spectrum, the term can be unnecessarily stress-inducing.

Meanwhile I also think that the term “data-informed” is less intimidating, less stressful, and less weighted. For every context in which “data-driven” has a negative connotation to some, the term “data-informed” can soften those effects. The “informed” part does NOT necessarily imply action, and thus allows for the continued involvement of non-quantitative influences. “Data-informed” allows for balance, which is comforting to many.

Is there a difference between the actions of a company or employee who is data-driven versus one who is data-informed? Probably. But that’s for another post.

But here’s my suggestion: for managers or c-suite executives who have found the term “data-driven” to be a hard sell within their company, I suggest using “data-informed” instead — to lessen the impact and win more believers.

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