Data viz resources from #eval17 (update)

by Stephanie Chasteen on November 10, 2017

I’m enjoying my first time at the American Evaluation Association (AEA) conference here in DC, and finally getting around to writing about a few things that I’m learning. Today’s post is about some of the great data visualization and representations that I’ve been picking up. This is all really relevant to my education research friends.

Choosing the right chart

The evaluation field’s go-to guru for well-displayed data is Stephanie Evergreen – check out her two books Effective Data Visualization: The Right Chart for the Right Data (on choosing the right chart) and also Presenting Data Effectively: Communicating Your Findings for Maximum Impact (on displaying the data effectively).

To the right is are notes from Stephanie Evergreen’s session here (notes thanks to Kat Haugh; learn more about visual note-taking on her blog pots here).

I enjoyed a webinar by Stephanie earlier this year and would recommend it to anybody. For example, she talked about how good the eye is at comparing lengths. But the standard bar chart confuses the eye, because the bars have width and chunkiness. So she suggests lollipop charts (see example in visual notes below), with a stick and ball at the end – to highlight the important part of the bar: The end point. The eye is more easily able to compare lengths with this visual cue. See her books for more ideas of using cognitive science to choose and design graphs. However, she has acknowledged that the culture of many organizations (including academia) has resisted some of the changes in design she recommends. Too bad. Change is slow.

Infographics

I also took a great workshop on making infographics by Stephanie Wilkerson and Anne Crosby of Magnolia Consulting.  (Yes, lots of Stephanies around!) Infographics can be great to accompany a large evaluation report, to help facilitate meetings, and to help people remember the key points a bit better. Infographic sheets are also more portable than the big report – you can grab it and bring it with you to the meetings.

These are surprisingly easy to make – using tools like Canva and Powerpoint and a little knowledge of design, you can put together some nice one-pagers. You can get great icons (only some for free) from the NounProject to illustrate the graphics. For example, they put together a nice little one-pager in front of us with headers (the evaluation questions), some big numbers (e.g., # of schools served), and a few key bar charts (e.g., rating of workshops) and quotes.

They have some great resource sheets at https://magnoliaconsulting.org/tools/, though my only beef is that I would like to see some good examples of one-page infographics there.  Here is a similar style one that I found on Pinterest (screenshot at right).

Update:  One-Pagers

Since I originally wrote this post, I attended a really nice session about one-pagers.  The handouts are at http://Bit.ly/EvaluATE-AEA, and have lots of great tips and suggestions and AMAZING other resources on their website (EvaluATE).  One of the best suggestions was to use a grid to lay out your one-pager, to create a “rule of thirds” and make sure it’s intentionally laid out.  And look for the “pearls” in your data …. don’t report all the oysters.  Hunt through your oysters for the few pearls.

Data placemats

 

A similar idea to an infographic, but with more early-stage data, is a data placemat. This is really a participatory evaluation technique rather than a visualization tool, but I put it here as another display option. When you’re working with stakeholders to try tothink about the implications of data, use a data placemat (print a copy for everyone at the table) and facilitate a conversation about What? So what? Now what? (What is the data? What does it tell us? What should we do about it?). The image at left is from a great session by by FSG which has great resources on their site about systems thinking, leading working groups, and facilitating learning.  See my separate post about participatory techniques in data analysis.

Timelines

Another session that gave me something to think about is timelines (Anna Newton-Levinson, Megan Higdon). Using Excel (the top part of the image below) and Powerpoint (below) you can create some rich timelines to visualize data that is taking on a recurring basis, and where the context (e.g., seasonal changes or policy changes) matter. You might include funding levels, program activities, etc., and use color groups for different types of activities.

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