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Storytelling & Evidence 
Amy & Vaishnavi 
IFMR Finance Foundation 
Spark Series | Autumn 2014
Outline 
Stories for Cognition 
Stories for Communication 
Stories as evidence, stories for insight 
!
STORIES FOR COGNITION
Why characteristics make us strive for 
new knowledge? 
1. Surprise 
2. Incongruity (contradiction!) 
3. Importance 
4. Salience 
5. Epiphany 
Sounds like a great story
Cognition 
• Stories help to engage us, and understand 
• Stories help us remember & organize our thoughts 
– “Memory palace:” recalling items by assigning them a space 
you’ve created in your mind
STORIES FOR 
COMMUNICATION
Communication 
• “Experts” vs. Folks 
• Researchers, practitioners, specialists often struggle to explain their 
work to non-specialists 
– Often, scientific evidence & ideas have to compete with non-scientific" fantasia” 
– That’s why we hear “the science is boring” 
• Effective communication of complex ideas isn’t a new problem 
– It isn’t easy 
– It can even be deadly
vs.
“Science like the rest of culture is based on the manufacture of 
narrative. We all live by narrative.” 
--E.O. Wilson
Recent evidence on Barriers to 
Banking
Or let us tell you a story… 
In Chennai, at a branch of one of India’s largest commercial banks, a 
large banner prominently announcing the bank’s host of savings 
products—including the “Basic Savings Deposit Account” (BSBDA)— 
stands over the bank’s entrance. 
A man enters the bank to inquire about opening a new account, and 
speaks with the manager…….
“Know the big data, which is the “the God shot” of reality that 
official statistics represent. But be ready for reality on the 
ground, too. Small stories can have big power. They can move 
donors, inform NGOs, and clue in lawmakers.” 
– Katherine Boo, author, “Behind the Beautiful Forevers”
STORIES AS EVIDENCE
Evidence and insight 
Beyond cognition and communication….stories play an 
important role in R&D 
• Stories are a research tool in themselves 
– A story is a form of data, set of facts 
– Can used to refute existing models, or suggest new ones
Evidence and insight 
“Research stories:” 2 desirable properties 
• Anomalous, or atypical: “Man bites dog” 
– not easily explained by existing theories 
• Immutable: “God is in every leaf of every tree” 
– Need not be representative 
– But it must be specific—the details can’t change with retelling
Evidence and insight 
• Big Data has its boundaries 
• Danger of big data—way we collect 
data, encode data, reflects our beliefs 
and assumptions… 
• Breakthrough, insight, only happens 
when we upend our beliefs and 
assumptions 
• Can’t crunch to insight
Evidence and insight 
• Frontier of research, management, practice, and science 
is in the “rough edges:” answers to questions we don’t 
know how to ask 
• To get closer to the right questions 
– Look to the details & descriptions in stories and 
narrative 
– Take stories seriously
Sparked your interest? 
Stories for Cognition 
The Science of storytelling (book review) 
How long to get to tatooine (New Yorker article)*** 
Curiosity, information gaps, and the utility of knowledge (Research article) 
The Art of memory (book review) 
Stories for Communication 
Tell me a story (podcast—Caltech commencement address)*** 
Storytelling that moves people (HBR article) 
Stories as Evidence, Stories for Insight 
When do stories work? Evidence and illustration in the social sciences (Research article)*** 
Ultimate limitation of big data for development (Scidev blog) 
Seeing what others don’t: data vs insights (Psychology article)*** 
Drive: the surprising truth about what motivates us (10min animation) 
Where good ideas come from (2 min animation)
Thank you

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Storytelling & evidence

  • 1. Storytelling & Evidence Amy & Vaishnavi IFMR Finance Foundation Spark Series | Autumn 2014
  • 2. Outline Stories for Cognition Stories for Communication Stories as evidence, stories for insight !
  • 4. Why characteristics make us strive for new knowledge? 1. Surprise 2. Incongruity (contradiction!) 3. Importance 4. Salience 5. Epiphany Sounds like a great story
  • 5.
  • 6. Cognition • Stories help to engage us, and understand • Stories help us remember & organize our thoughts – “Memory palace:” recalling items by assigning them a space you’ve created in your mind
  • 7.
  • 9. Communication • “Experts” vs. Folks • Researchers, practitioners, specialists often struggle to explain their work to non-specialists – Often, scientific evidence & ideas have to compete with non-scientific" fantasia” – That’s why we hear “the science is boring” • Effective communication of complex ideas isn’t a new problem – It isn’t easy – It can even be deadly
  • 10. vs.
  • 11. “Science like the rest of culture is based on the manufacture of narrative. We all live by narrative.” --E.O. Wilson
  • 12. Recent evidence on Barriers to Banking
  • 13. Or let us tell you a story… In Chennai, at a branch of one of India’s largest commercial banks, a large banner prominently announcing the bank’s host of savings products—including the “Basic Savings Deposit Account” (BSBDA)— stands over the bank’s entrance. A man enters the bank to inquire about opening a new account, and speaks with the manager…….
  • 14. “Know the big data, which is the “the God shot” of reality that official statistics represent. But be ready for reality on the ground, too. Small stories can have big power. They can move donors, inform NGOs, and clue in lawmakers.” – Katherine Boo, author, “Behind the Beautiful Forevers”
  • 16. Evidence and insight Beyond cognition and communication….stories play an important role in R&D • Stories are a research tool in themselves – A story is a form of data, set of facts – Can used to refute existing models, or suggest new ones
  • 17. Evidence and insight “Research stories:” 2 desirable properties • Anomalous, or atypical: “Man bites dog” – not easily explained by existing theories • Immutable: “God is in every leaf of every tree” – Need not be representative – But it must be specific—the details can’t change with retelling
  • 18. Evidence and insight • Big Data has its boundaries • Danger of big data—way we collect data, encode data, reflects our beliefs and assumptions… • Breakthrough, insight, only happens when we upend our beliefs and assumptions • Can’t crunch to insight
  • 19. Evidence and insight • Frontier of research, management, practice, and science is in the “rough edges:” answers to questions we don’t know how to ask • To get closer to the right questions – Look to the details & descriptions in stories and narrative – Take stories seriously
  • 20. Sparked your interest? Stories for Cognition The Science of storytelling (book review) How long to get to tatooine (New Yorker article)*** Curiosity, information gaps, and the utility of knowledge (Research article) The Art of memory (book review) Stories for Communication Tell me a story (podcast—Caltech commencement address)*** Storytelling that moves people (HBR article) Stories as Evidence, Stories for Insight When do stories work? Evidence and illustration in the social sciences (Research article)*** Ultimate limitation of big data for development (Scidev blog) Seeing what others don’t: data vs insights (Psychology article)*** Drive: the surprising truth about what motivates us (10min animation) Where good ideas come from (2 min animation)