Lillian Grace is telling thousands of New Zealand stories thanks to spreadsheets.

The CEO and founder of non-profit Figure.NZ wants to make New Zealand "as awesome as we know it can be", by helping people to see the country clearly through the use of numbers".

Figure.NZ's website presents a lot of easily found Statistics New Zealand data as story-telling graphs but she said it was the tip of an iceberg. She said the majority of New Zealand data was collected as a "byproduct" of other services.

"Data sets have historically been spread around and organised by source - you have to know who collects something before you can find it," she said.


Her company is hunting and collecting the data, standardising it and publishing it free for all to use, thanks to smart search tools.

"We are finding new ways for people to find and use numbers without having to know the precise words or questions to ask."

Funding is through sponsorships, data services or teaching data literacy.

She said some big organisations established data analytics/business insight teams which did not know how to ask the right questions.

"We are the first organisation to be doing what we're doing.

"Everyone is capable of using data - we need to change the language and serve it up in a way that does not require them to become experts and totally change how we think about numbers".

She said Figure.NZ was a non-profit "in the same way Wikipedia wouldn't work if it was a government or commercial entity".

"If we were a commercial entity we could make lots of money but it would totally sway the data on the site - it would probably lean towards just economic stuff whereas we want to have it across all areas.

ASB Bank is a cornerstone sponsor.

Her first close encounter with data was, when working for a think tank, she was asked to get numbers from the Statistics NZ website.

"I was like, what! There are thousands of these stories.

"We would go out and talk about social, environmental or economic issues and show simple charts.

"I realised everyone actually cares, it is just that they don't know how to ask the questions and they don't know how to engage."

Raised in Central Hawke's Bay, she was lying on a picnic blanket under a Hawke's Bay tree on a visit when she had her eureka moment to start Figure.NZ to make data an easily accessed resource.

An early supporter was Xero.

CEO Rod Drury said Lillian was a leading example of the new generation of New Zealand technology leaders.

"She is driven to make information accessible to all New Zealanders and educating why data is key to decision-making," he said.

"Her passion has made Figure.NZ an important New Zealand asset which is driving positive change in Government through to schools."