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Insights blog #1: 18 August 2023 - Unravelling the power of data

From SA-SAMS information to actionable insights

By Jef Jacobs, DDD Insights and Innovation Manager

Understanding the distinction between data, information and insights is crucial in today's world of information overload. This article sheds light on the difference between information and insights – and highlights why the DDD team places such great emphasis on actionable insights. Keep reading for examples that use real 2023 Term 2 education data to illustrate the difference between the two.

Information refers to raw data, facts or details that are collected, prepared and presented in a structured manner. It remains objective and represents a collection of observations, measurements or descriptions. However, information, on its own, does not provide a profound understanding or meaning of occurrences; it simply conveys what is true, assuming the source data is correct.

Examples of information include statistics, historical events, scientific findings or any factual data that can be communicated. Information can be quantified, categorized and presented in various formats such as text, tables, graphs, or charts - similar to the Learner Information Data download or the educator attendance bar graph. Its value lies in its ability to serve as a foundation for insights.

Insights, or what we prefer to call actionable insights, empower us to extract value from information. They offer a deeper understanding or interpretation of information and involve the analysis, synthesis and interpretation of data to extract relevant trends, relationships or perspectives that can be acted upon to ultimately enhance learning outcomes.

Deriving actionable insights from information requires critical thinking, context, possibly more information and industry experience. Insights provide valuable perspectives, implications or even predictions, often characterized by "aha moments." They provide a fresh outlook, unveil hidden patterns or reveal untapped possibilities.


Imagine you are driving to a destination, and you want to know if you have enough fuel to get there.


You have 5 litres of fuel left. The destination is 100km ahead of you.

Actionable insight #1

5 litres of fuel, based on your car’s average consumption, equals 80km “left in the tank”. You will need to purchase more fuel to reach your destination.

Actionable insight #2

Based on your GPS coordinates, the nearest petrol station is 5km away in the opposite direction, while the second nearest petrol station is 150km ahead of you. To reach your destination, you must turn around to purchase more fuel.

Actionable insight #3

If you reduce your speed by 50%, your consumption per KM reduces enough to reach your destination with the fuel you have, however, you will arrive without enough fuel to reach the nearest petrol station.

Information and insights are distinct yet interconnected concepts. While information represents raw data or facts, insights derive meaning, understanding and potential from that information. Recognising the difference between the two is essential for effective decision-making, problem-solving, and innovation in today's education sector. Without insights, it becomes challenging to determine whether to respond (and how) to what is observed.

An education example

The table below contains information about two (real) Grade 10 learners in South Africa. Their names and place of school have been removed.

At first glance, both Learner A and Learner B appear similar. Neither of them achieved the minimum requirements for three subjects, including their Home Language subject.

They missed the minimum requirements for their Home Language subjects by less than 5%, indicating that they have the potential to reach the 40% minimum requirement before the end of the year.

It would be prudent to support both learners in improving their Home Language marks, as doing so would increase their chances of passing the next term and the year – since a Grade 10 learner must achieve at least 40% in their Home Language subject to progress to the next term or year.

In addition to passing their Home Language subject, both learners will need to achieve at least 30% in one additional subject to progress to the next term or year – assuming all else remains equal.

However, Learner A only needs to improve their Physical Sciences mark by 1% to meet all minimum requirements, while Learner B will need to achieve at least 11% more in their Mathematics mark. Although Learner B is very similar to Learner A (and even possesses a higher average mark), Learner B will need to achieve more than double the increase in marks compared to Learner A to pass the next term or year. Thus, one can assume that an intervention that accelerates the performance of Sepedi Home Language and Physical Sciences is more likely to enhance the overall pass rate than an intervention focused solely on Sepedi Home Language and Mathematics.

Considering the context and insights derived from the data, we can make informed decisions on which learners to prioritise for support, which subjects to target for improvement, and what interventions are most likely to yield positive results. These insights can ultimately lead to superior educational outcomes and improved pass rates for learners.

So, what insights do you derive from DDD?

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