By Amber Harvey
It’s 6-something-AM on a wet and grey Wednesday, and I’m following the last of the crowd into the State Library. The ticketholders take their seats, and I find a spot at the back far enough away so that my supervisor can’t see the bags under my eyes, but close enough that I could still read “Fear and loathing in Regional Australia” on the slideshow at the front of the room.
It’s safe to say at this point I’m questioning my enrolment in the graduate program with Quantum Market Research.
It’s also safe to say that I was not excited by the prospect of the next hour being filled with numbers and statistics. Never one for maths, I could already feel my brain switching off to a conversation I had no doubt would go above my head.
Thankfully, the measured Northern tones of Associate Director Tom Leslie cut through my sleep deprived spiral. Facts and figures from AustraliaSCAN flashed on the screen, talking to levels of financial, political and social confidence of both regional and metro residents. Over 10 years of data quantifying attitude changes towards government, social causes, community values, heath, unemployment, politics, money…
That’s when I got it.
These people weren’t here to listen to percentages or look at pretty charts. It wasn’t even really about the numbers at all. They were here to watch Tom tell a story. To look at the threads he pulled between the numbers. What did a change of 10 percentage points actually mean? What was significant about our views changing, or staying the same? What had caused them to behave this way? Every line of the story was carefully sourced from AustraliaSCAN, and translated by his considerable experience reading these narratives.
That’s what had gotten people out of their bed, into the rain and sitting in this room with wide eyes and now-filled notebooks. That’s what had woken up a little graduate hiding at the back of the room.
Tom continued, completely oblivious to what he would probably view as an obvious revelation. Of course that’s what social market research is!
His story started to move further than 2020, hinting at the sequel. Still grounded in the numbers and statistics I was so quick to shun, he flagged future concerns, trends likely to continue or dissipate, and what this meant for any action being taken during this time.
Then, as any good storyteller would, he closed with a plot twist.
“What is it going to take to shift the outcomes and change the narrative?”
Every single person in that room, regardless of their job or sector, just realised they were a writer. They all had the power to rewrite any of these storylines, to make changes within their organisation and through to their audiences. There was no doubt every single person could influence where the lines on the charts end, but without Tom finding the story, translating it, and sharing it, that next chapter remained unreadable.
There’s no such thing as skipping to the final page, but sometimes truly understanding the rest of the story can be just as good.