How Research-Driven Organizations Become Thought Leaders

Aren’t Explainers Just Stealth Opinion Content?

The point of explainer content isn’t to end conversations. It’s to start them.

I don’t have a lot of patience for critics of the explainer genre who say it’s fundamentally duplicitous — that it pretends to an unattainable objectivity within which it hides bias and suppression of diverse views. (That might be true for Vox, but it doesn’t have to be for the genre as a whole.)

The explainer isn’t an encyclopedia entry — it’s a narrative. It should strive to present a comprehensive picture — but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily objective.

Explainers are windows experts construct for us so that we can see what they see — and make better decisions.

Here’s the main difference between opinion and explainer content:

  • Opinion content leads with argument and point of view, supported by evidence.
  • Explainer content leads with evidence and context, which builds into a point of view.

So explainers should have a point of view — even if that point of view is “this issue is more complicated than you thought.”

Case in point: This 400-word Axios opinion piece by Todd Moss, executive director of the Energy for Growth Hub. (Full disclosure: Todd is a client.)

Todd’s writing about the sad state of metrics for global energy poverty.

As his hook, he uses a new USAID report that knocks the electrification initiative Power Africa for “overstating the impact of its development efforts by counting the delivery of solar lanterns as new electricity connections.”

In the 400 words, Todd explains:

  • How accurate energy metrics are critical to meeting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal for energy access;
  • That 600 million people in Africa lack access to electricity at home, and Power Africa aims to establish 60 million new connections by 2030;
  • That Power Africa counting solar lanterns as “connections” is emblematic of “the low bar international organizations have set for solving global energy poverty” — at levels adequate for powering a few lights and a low-watt appliance, but inadequate for powering economic, job and income growth; and
  • While Power Africa has stopped counting lanterns as connections, the international development community as a whole has yet to settle on metrics for energy access that would drive energy abundance in many parts of the world.

All the above is based on evidence.

And the weight of the evidence creates an irresistible point of view — it basically forces Todd to conclude with these two lines:

“Ending energy poverty requires more than a lightbulb. Energy metrics should reflect this reality, too.”

The best explainers — long-form, short-form, video, audio — drive toward answers, not just context. They might not reach those answers, but the quest — as in research itself — is essential.

Two other explainers for you to explore — one short, one long — that also have clear POVs:

VideoWorld Economic Forum explainer with Douglas Peterson and Martina Cheung of S&P Global and Laura D’Andrea Tyson of UC-Berkeley on the economic ramifications of gender workplace parity.

Policy BriefUrban Institute’s Next50 Climate Adaptation brief on adaptation and issues of urban equity.

Bottom line: An answer is a POV. But a POV doesn’t equal bias.