View from the Inside: To Teach and Delight

Sharon Lam, Data Analysis Assistant

For the final View from the Inside post of this semester, Sharon Lam reflects on how we share our insights at the Innovation Hub. To read more reflections from Sharon, click here.

One of the final stages of Innovation Hub projects is reporting on our findings. This may be in the form of written reports, but can also include presentations and visualisations. Depending on the project, the audience of partners and stakeholders receiving our insights differs, but in each case, we want to clearly convey our insights, so our partners can use them to ideate and prototype. We do this in the form of “Design Principles”—aspirational themes to inspire and guide our partners as they develop solutions. While reports, presentations, and design principles need to be accurate, they also need to be memorable and moving. 

Since I have a background in literary theory, I can see how our reporting efforts are not too different from what writers and artists from past millennia have all attempted to do. Sir Philip Sidney portrays the writer’s craft as “figuring forth … a speaking picture, with this end,—to teach and delight.” (The Defence of Poesy) In doing so, writers “move men to take that goodness in hand, which without delight they would fly as from a stranger.” As we dive into the data, our challenge is to distil all that we have into something representative and inspiring, something that will move people to action.

For the data analysis team, tasked with looking at all of the data that the Innovation Hub has collected over three years and drawing out insights, this is particularly daunting. We are talking about 547 transcripts (and counting), 7398 excerpts (and counting), 35,665 code applications (and counting). How can we possibly represent all of this accurately? Sidney references Aristotle’s idea of mimēsis as representing and even “counterfeiting.” That is not to say faking it. When project teams create personas, these are a representation. Quotes may be used word for word, but since we anonymise our data and agglomerate similar opinions, the person is not a real person. And yet personas are a widely recognised tool in many business settings, given the growth of UX and design thinking practices. What this fictional persona represents is real, and it is perhaps a more real representation than what you could get from a statistical model, since human empathy is a very real part of us.

As we attempt to represent many different voices, there is a danger of thinking that we can actually present all voices. We certainly try to represent diverse opinions, but if we recognize the incredible patchwork of people in our communities, then we know we cannot succinctly express all the viewpoints that have been captured so far, even less all those that are out there. We can only “teach and delight” as honestly as possible.

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