How to turn three billion data points into one key message

by Joy Portella


The Minerva Strategies team gets excited about two things: courageous work to improve people’s lives and top-notch communications that compel people to action. Last week we got our fair share of both.


Minerva and our global partners have had the pleasure of working with the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) for the past five years. IHME creates the most up-to-date, comprehensive health data possible, and then gets that data out into the world to inform health policies, investments, and everyday decisions.


IHME’s cornerstone product, the Global Burden of Disease Study (GBD2016) is massive. It draws on the work of more than 2,500 collaborators from 130+ countries and territories. This year’s GBD2016 – published in a series of six papers in The Lancet last week – includes three billion data points that, in total, paint a holistic picture of which diseases, injuries, and risk factors lead to death and illness in countries around the world.


This is innovative work that is greatly increasing our understanding of health, and allowing us – policymakers, public health experts, and everyday people – to make better health choices based on sound statistics.


The communication challenge is that GBD2016 is an enormous amount of data, and too much for most mere mortals to wrap their heads around. It’s the challenge of IHME’s communicators to highlight the most resonant findings that allow journalists and other audiences to understand the pertinent stories behind the robust and complex data.


They did a great job. The main message from GBD2016 was that a “triad of trouble” – obesity, violence, and mental health challenges – causes a tremendous amount of health burden. And the real kicker is that each of the three troubles is either preventable or treatable, but prevalent behaviors, crippling stigma, and bad choices get in the way.


We love the triad because it takes three billion bits of data and whittles it down into one understandable and actionable message. That’s no easy task.


To learn more about the findings of IHME’s Global Burden of Disease Study, read this excellent Reuters story or check out IHME’s website.