Analytical literacy; don’t assume anything

I’m a great one for analogies to demonstrate a point; the one I use to describe ‘analytical literacy’ is ‘if I can tell what you the winning numbers of the lottery will be on Saturday, but you don’t buy a ticket, don’t blame me if you don’t win’.

Question mark

Ok, so let’s get one thing clear I can’t tell you what the winning numbers of the lottery will be (sorry). My point is that information is only as good as the action! As an analyst with 12 years experience in the NHS, I have seen the development of multiple new reports to inform people around a plethora of areas in Hospitals; from what patients are waiting for, to live state reporting.

However, throughout my career I have learnt more by spending time with my ‘customers’; the operational and clinical staff who ask me for information. By spending time with them, I can better meet their needs by understanding what they are asking for and why? Over the past 5 years the need for quality information in the NHS has been become more crucial to daily operational understanding; moving away from anecdotal evidence. However, the understanding of this information has not developed in the same way that the reporting / presentation of information has.

We have multiple different solutions for mobile working and the dissemination of information with the use of different business intelligence platforms (although Excel is more powerful than you think). With this need for more information comes a great challenge; demand and capacity. The main issue facing information teams at the moment is the amount of resources they have to complete the work (I know that this is not just a challenge for information teams).

However there is also the assumption of the analytical literacy of the wider organisation e.g. an analyst completes a piece of information and sends out to the requestor with no commentary. The assumption is that the person receiving this can interpret the graph / numbers. Why? When a request is made to the information department it is often in the form of an email with minimal detail; ‘can you tell me how many outpatients did Dr X see last month?’ or ‘has the demand for our emergency department increased?’ Although pertinent questions they lack the level of detail needed.

When requesting a piece of information, think of three points;
  • Content
  • Context
  • Clarity
Content; what is it you want to see and how do you want to see this? Understanding that presentation will be based on multiple factors e.g. audience, timescales etc Also think about added-value analysis e.g. do you want statistical process control (we won’t go into that) or commentary on the information?

Context; why do you want to have this piece of information; don’t assume the analyst knows the intricacies of the Hospital. Describe, in as much detail as possible, what it is you need and why?

Clarity; be clear about the question and the time frames so that appropriate resources can be used to complete So when you ask for a piece of information, stick to these three key principles, and don’t assume (we all know what that does).


Chris Green - Director of information, NHS Emergency Care Improvement Programme (ECIP)

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