I saw a story without any data. It was like a milkshake without any flavor.
First, some background: Mark Baker recently wrote a piece in which he rightly derided the DIKW (data, information, knowledge, wisdom) pyramid as a model for communication. He pointed out that pure data, without a story to give it context, is meaningless.
Then he set out to replace the pyramid with a different model: a stack of turtles, each one riding on the back of the one below it. The stack, in Mark’s words, “is stories at the bottom, in the middle, and at the top. It is stories, like turtles, all the way down.”
That sounded good to me. Then I saw a story without any data. (Note: The following narrative is about a story. Even though it touches on a controversial political topic it’s not about politics.)
The American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, a nonprofit organization that lobbies legislators in state governments, has been in the news lately because of its growing influence and because several of its corporate members — like Google, Microsoft, and Facebook — have left, some citing disagreement with ALEC’s stands on issues.
That has the makings of an interesting story. So I wanted some simple data to go with it. Specifically I wanted to know which corporations are still members of ALEC.
Know what? The data isn’t there.
Conventional web searches like “members of ALEC” yield a few compilations by groups whose names, like ALEC exposed, make it clear they have a political ax to grind. Wikipedia has a list that its editors admit is incomplete: it’s based on media reports and on data from the left-leaning Common Cause. That list is out of date, too, which is understandable since it’s compiled by volunteers.
ALEC’s own website has information about how to join. But there’s no list of members.
So my question — “Which corporations are still members of ALEC?” — remains unanswered.
I’ve come to the conclusion that stories are vital, as Mark says. And I agree with Mark that data by itself is meaningless. But stories without data are essentially meaningless, too. Stories and data have to be intertwined. You can’t have one without the other. Yin and yang. So I propose updating Mark’s turtle to look like the picture on the right. Story and data, all the way down.
What do you think?