Prescriptive Analytics – How to have a fairy-tale ending

prescriptive_analyticsI just finished reading a fantastic novel called Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi. It’s a mid-20th century retelling of the Snow White fairy tale with lots of twists and turns. Plus, it contains what has to be one of my favorite paragraphs in literature:

“I’d have liked for him to say my name again, though. You know how it is when someone says your name really well, like it means something that makes the world a better place. In Louis Chen’s case, he sometimes says my name as it if were a lesser-known word for bacon.”

You may be wondering what this has to do with Analytics.

People sometimes refer to Analytics as having 3 phases: (1) Descriptive – the story the data tells us, or what it describes to us, (2) Predictive – what we predict will happen based on the current data, or what comes next in the story and (3) Prescriptive – or what we should DO now that we have the story and the predictions to get our desired outcome.

This reminds me of a fairy tale. The Descriptive is the story. It tells us what happened and why, and that’s crucial to have that basic information before we move forward.

The Predictive is “And they lived Happily Ever After.” It’s a prediction, but is it true? For most fairy tales we’ll never know if they live happily ever after or not.

In the analysis I’ve seen lately for nonprofits, the prediction is NOT that they’ll live happily ever after. Declining acquisition response rates, fewer available names, and decreasing renewal rates – especially for online donors – remain a challenge. So, the Predictive is sometimes, “You will NOT live Happily Ever After unless something changes.”

Prescriptive Analytics tells what you need to do to get where you want to go, whether that’s having a fairy-tale marriage or raising the money you need to fund your important programs.

Good analytics provides you with all 3 – the story of what’s happened so far, the prediction of where it will go from here and the steps you need to take to get to the ending you want.

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