TRA Journal

Purpose driven data

Andrew Lewis

Our job at TRA is to know people. To understand why we act the way we do, and to deduce what this says about what we are seeking from organisations.

Why do we do this?

Because we want to see people get better stuff from the organisations that serve them, and in turn see organisations succeed and grow through the provision of better stuff. 

With this purpose front and centre it will come as no surprise to you, dear reader, to learn that harnessing and interpreting the data we humans create as we move through life is incredibly important to our practice. Particularly now, in our connected web era, where the quantity and breadth of data being created is exponentially exploding. We create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day, and such is the rate of growth behind this number that 90% of all the world’s data was created in the past two years.

So vast is this information creation that it can feel like we must be documenting every minute of life for everyone on the planet. And the truth is, you wouldn’t be far wrong in that assumption. One of the most striking features of this recent explosion in data is that the vast majority of this is generated by us in the form of interactions with each other or via media we have created and shared with the world. The status updates, photos shared, the Google searches typed (or voiced), the tweets, Tinder swipes and memes shared every single day by the people of the world. 

This form of human-generated data – this ‘new data’ that is coming online and exponentially expanding – is something we are very focused on understanding at TRA, and forms how we approach the entire idea of what data is, and how it informs our practice of understanding human behaviour to drive positive change.

Our first key tenant is that data is very much a human creation, and needs to be considered as such. It’s the trace signal left behind as we people push on through existence. Understanding requires interpretation – not just the numerical, but also the contextual. We are very big believers in the idea of pairing what data is showing us with tools such as frameworks and established learnings from social and cognitive sciences, to gain insight into what it is we are all seeking from the organisations that serve us. Data without these references is often too free of context to help us, and constructs without data are too vague to reliably guide our activities. It is the blend of disciplines that brings us much closer to the truth about the problem we are solving for people in our provision of services, products and experiences.


A great example of this is our work in the cultural currents space, where we utilise scraping and AI to gather broad data to breathe life into our strategic frameworks that outline the major forces driving change in the world. We know, for example, wellness is a driving force for behaviour change, but through harnessing human-generated media data we can now size the force of this current and show very clearly how it is manifesting itself in a geography and industry vertical.

A second key tenant to our data practices is that data is alive. It’s updating as you read this, and our understanding of it should likewise move. At TRA we believe in the idea of ‘always on’ thinking – harnessing curated streams of data that provide the signals most useful to understanding the problem we are looking to solve for people. Around this we advocate for taking time for deep understanding of what is being seen, of an iterated ‘learning’ approach to building solutions which move closer towards an ideal over time.

As such, we have been spending considerable R&D and development time looking at how we can effectively activate and utilise ongoing data flows that help us understand how life unfolds, across spaces as broad as social media, news, consumer spending and population change. It is our belief that these should form the infrastructure of our human-centric thinking as a business, the solid base camp from which we can deploy our expeditions into charting the unknown spaces of what it is that people really want from us.

Which brings us to the third key tenant of our data practice. The charting of the unknown. To us, data without storytelling capability – whether that be journalistic or visual in nature – is too inhuman, too vanilla to connect with on the visceral level required to inspire empathy and change. It’s like brussels sprouts without the bits of bacon, or chips without the salt.

We see it as a fundamental part of our job to use data to connect organisations empathetically with the people they serve, and to see this understanding effectively represented in the strategies deployed back by these organisations. To this end, our data practice is closely connected to both our design and strategy teams, contextualising insights and looking for appropriate and compelling ways to drive insights back into a business.

In essence, our approach to data at TRA is defined by ideas of humanity, continuity and relatability. Our job is to ensure that data, the trace signal of our existence, is effectively used to understand and enrich our existence, not just to record passage at a cold, impersonal distance.