Foundation of a Successful Data Project: Telling Your Project Story

This blog is the final piece in an ongoing series by the State Chief Data Officers Network at the Georgetown Beeck Center reflecting the best practices and lessons learned by our cohort of participants in Data Labs. The Data Labs initiative helps states launch data-driven economic recovery projects as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

May 2, 2022 – By Carlos Andrés Arias


Laudable project efforts often miss their potential because important stakeholders are unaware of the project, unclear about its goals, or disinterested entirely. Storytelling is the critical piece of a project that will raise awareness of your team’s hard work and garner critical buy-in from decision-makers, stakeholders, and the public.   

Identifying the Intended Audience

Before putting pen to paper, invest the time to understand your audience. This is the necessary foundation of compelling messaging. A narrative that describes the project and its desired impact will need to be tailored to different audiences or objectives. That’s why it is crucial to get a clear picture of the intended audience. 

In doing so, there are various questions to keep in mind: 

  1. What audiences are you trying to reach?
    Who is the intended audience? How are they going to be impacted by the story? Get specific. Answering these questions will help identify the key points of the story and be able to convey why it matters. 
  2. What are you trying to communicate?  
    What do you want them to do with the information? What do you want to achieve by bringing the project to audiences? Identify what actions are needed from the audience (for example, buy-in, approval, or shared resources). 
  3. What are you doing and why are you doing it?
    Identify how the project fits within the broader organizational context and purpose? Does the project connect to other workstreams or organizational imperatives? Leveling up the project’s purpose into the broader strategy helps audiences understand how its success will impact them.
  4. What are your objectives and how are you achieving them?
    Address the methods, options, key decisions, and solutions that you plan on employing during the project. The audience will need basic working knowledge about the project to fully grasp its value. 

The above questions will help your teams develop a strong foundation for your narrative. Once you’ve identified the key points of the story, tailor the message for the different audiences that will be important for implementation. 

Tailoring the Story

Different audiences are going to react differently to the work and what it’s trying to achieve. For maximum impact and support, teams will need to take key steps to ensure they have a robust understanding of their audiences and are telling the right story. 

  1. Analyze your audience(s): Define the different roles, motivations, and influences of each important audience. Understand who they are and what is important to them. Be specific. 
  2. Adjust the messaging: Take the time to understand how you should present the  project to the different audiences. Some will want to understand the impact, while others will be most interested in the process. Map each key audience to the messaging that will resonate with them.
  3. Refine the story: In meeting different stakeholders, your team will garner valuable insight that can impact how it tells its story. Don’t be afraid to adjust the messaging based on stakeholder feedback, it will only make it more compelling and relevant in the long run.

Don’t forget the call to action

Once you have established the target audience(s) and made sure that the messaging will meet their needs, define what you want each audience to do after hearing the story. Make sure that your messaging provides a clear call to action that is as easy and intuitive as possible.

A good story will allow project teams to deeply understand the various aspects of the work and anticipate questions that will be raised about the project. Beyond just having the technical capacity and know-how, the team will have “translated” the work to gain buy-in from interested parties and ultimately maximize public impact. The right messaging and story will help the work resonate with stakeholders who are critical to its success. 

Carlos Andrés Arias is a Program Manager for the Beeck Center’s Data Labs: Roadmap to Recovery program.