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Two Resources to Exponentially Drive the Actionability of Your Insight

Viewing actionable insight as a goal and lacking the incorporation of its intention within research projects hinders the purpose of the term. Here's how to take actionability and implement it throughout the research process.

Editor’s Note: This post is part of our Big Ideas series, a column highlighting the innovative thinking and thought leadership at IIeX events around the world. Brianna Sylver will be speaking at IIeX North America 2019 in Austin, TX. If you liked this article, you’ll LOVE IIeX North America. Click here to learn more. 


“Actionable insight” is a term that is everywhere today.

At its core, “actionable insight” is code for, “I want this work that we’re about to embark upon to be useful. I want it to inspire the next steps that our company takes in pursuit of our growth goals. And, I want the people that need to be aligned to that next step bought into the insights so that the insights, themselves, stay at the forefront of decisions made in the business.”

This all seems very reasonable. “Actionable insight” is an admirable end goal. And yet, this focus on the “end” is precisely why the “actionability” of insight is elusive to so many.

Bottom line, enabling “actionable insight” is about managing the throughput of intention of an initiative — from start to finish. It’s about acknowledging that you, as an insights professional, also need to assume of the role of engagement specialist with the chief responsibility of structuring the journey of learning for your stakeholder team. “Actionable insight” is not exclusively about your deliverable to the organization.

This is a small, yet huge reframe, in both action and impact. To that end, I want to offer you a tool and a framework that you can use to better manage the throughput of intention in your insights projects, all designed to maximize that journey of learning for both you and the key business stakeholders that you’re serving.

If you leverage these resources, you will exponentially increase the actionability of your research. I personally use this tool and framework weekly as I consult with big brands such as PepsiCo, Cigna, and Pearson on how to transform their brands and offerings into the future.

So, let’s get to it …

The Tool: The Five Intention Setting Questions

It is essential to use this tool at the start of a project. It can also be used at later points in an initiative when a resetting or regrounding of intentions may be needed.

The protocol is fairly simple. You ask the five questions that follow … in the order presented below:

  1. What do you not want to have happen in this initiative or as a result of it?
  2. How do you not want to feel in this initiative or as a result of it?
  3. What do you want to have happen in this initiative or as a result of it?
  4. How do you want to feel in this initiative or as a result of it?
  5. How do you want others to feel (your customers, colleagues, executive leadership team, etc.)?

These five questions surface all the explicit and implicit intentions around scope of work. They help to articulate the real “why” behind a scope of work (from the business perspective) and give shape to the overall project design that will be needed — inclusive of best methodologies to support your work, requirements for the best vendors to do your work and the ideal interactions to foster from your stakeholder team — all to ensure that the emerging insights from your scope of work are understood, embraced and integrated into the next step actions of your business partners.

The Framework: “What, So What, Now What” Fireside Chats

This framework should be used iteratively throughout an insights program, most typically begun at the time of fielding. Its tone is informal in nature, hence the name “fireside chat.”

Essentially, this framework becomes the agenda of iterative connection points with your stakeholder team as the project is in process.

In the “what” section of your agenda, you are communicating what you are learning in the field thus far. It’s no different than how you would likely treat a mid-field debrief meeting today or a top-line review call. However, that typical interaction goes deeper and the potential for your insights to become more actionable becomes stronger when you add the next two sections into your agenda.

In the “so what” section of your agenda, you’re asking your internal stakeholders: “What are you hearing in these insights that I’m sharing with you? What new ideas or adjacent thoughts are they sparking for you?”

In the “now what” section of your agenda, you’re asking: “Given the learning that we’ve shared with you, what pivots, if any, are needed — to the project’s research protocols, intended next steps, stakeholders who need to be involved from this point forward, etc.?”

Through responses gained from these “so what?” and “now what?” questions, you know what is resonating from your insight’s work. You can understand how it connects back (in your client’s mind) to the business question that they’ve proposed. You will also be given insight into the nuances of how the business question(s) have evolved in the organization since the original ask and the opportunity to identify mental reframes that might be required by your stakeholder team to truly receive the breadth and depth of the formal insight to be shared with them from this work. This framework single-handedly drives ongoing relevancy of your research, amidst ongoing change happening within your organization.

In sum, “The Five Intention Setting Questions” tool and the “What, So What, Now What” Fireside Chat Framework enables you, as an insights professional, to become an engagement specialist of the organization. You become the bridge between internal (business) and external (customer) needs. You excelling in this “bridge” role is what drives “actionable insight” within your organization. The deliverable simply becomes the supporting narrative for how that learning journey unfolded.

So I ask you, as you read this today, “What are you hearing?” and “What pivots will you commit to making this week in how you manage the learning journey of your organization, not just its learning agenda?”

Brianna will be speaking with Brodie Dunn of PepsiCo at IIeX North America on how the two of them created the bridge for actionable insight in the Frito-Lay Hot & Spicy snack portfolio. To date, two products have launched based on their insights work, each exceeding market projections. 

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Brianna Sylver

Brianna Sylver

Founder & President , Sylver Consulting