The Citizen Analyst Manifesto, Part 2: Curious

In this series, we’ll explore what it means to be a citizen analyst, what values you stand for, and what qualities in the world you adamantly must oppose.


Be curious of nature.

One of the driving forces of the citizen analyst is curiosity. Citizen analysts don’t accept blanket statements at face value, especially when presented with little or no methodology. See a meme on Facebook or a viral article? You question it, and want to see the data. You want to download the data and do your own analysis. Your nature drives you to investigate, to dig, to understand the real story. You crave subtlety and nuance, a desire to see the big picture as well as the data itself. You want the forest and its trees equally.

What citizen analysts oppose most is incurious behavior. Incurious behavior takes many forms, from fact-proof memes (vaccines cause autism!) to agenda-driven data. The cardinal sin to a citizen analyst is deciding what you want to say first, then cherry picking facts and data to support your point of view.

For example, an incurious marketer or communicator will simply ask the question, “when is the best time to tweet?” This is incurious, because it presumes there is a best time to tweet. The curious citizen analyst instead asks, “Is there a best time to tweet? Does such a phenomenon even exist?” From there, the citizen analyst would gather up publicly available data and find out that no, there is no such creature. There are times which are better and which are worse; each Twitter account’s results vary because each account’s audience is unique and different.

An incurious journalist will often posit a story such as “X politician is wrong about issue Y”. The curious citizen analyst would pick up the thrown gauntlet and ask, “What data do we have about issue Y? Is there even a potential for right or wrong to exist, or is issue Y actually agnostic?”

In the field of public relations, the sin of incuriosity is especially strong. Companies, stakeholders, clients, and communicators all want to put their brand, their products and services in the best possible light. However, the mandate to find the best possible light often is at odds with curiosity. An investigation into data may reveal that in fact, your brand or product/service may be the least competitive, worst option on the market.

To be truly data-driven, to embrace the citizen analyst movement, may require you to face difficult truths about yourself and the causes you care about. This is why curious is the first value of the citizen analyst, and the one we must uphold most vigorously.

Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology

Disclosure: IBM Watson Analytics™ and Watson™ are trademarks of IBM. Used with permission.


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