A quick guide goes over the 14 do’s and don’ts of data visualization. This guide is not intended to teach these do’s and don’ts but rather serve as a reminder.
|Emma Perk||Lyssa Wilson Becho|
Evaluation reports take a lot of time to produce and are packed full of valuable information. To get the most out of your reports, think about “repackaging” your traditional report into smaller pieces.
Repackaging involves breaking up a long-form evaluation report into digestible pieces to target different audiences and their specific information needs. The goals of repackaging are to increase stakeholders’ engagement with evaluation findings, increase their understanding, and expand their use.
Let’s think about how we communicate data to various readers. Bill Shander from Beehive Media created the 4×4 Model for Knowledge Content, which illustrates different levels at which data can be communicated. We have adapted this model for use within the evaluation field. As you can see below, there are four levels, and each has a different type of deliverable associated with it. We are going to walk through these four levels and how an evaluation report can be broken up into digestible pieces for targeted audiences.
The first level, the Water Cooler, is for quick, easily digestible data pieces. The idea is to intrigue your viewer to want to learn more using a single piece of data from your report. Examples include a headline in a newspaper, a postcard, or social media post. In a social media post, you should include a graphic (photo or graph), a catchy title, and a link to the next communication level’s document. This information should be succinct and exciting. Use this level to catch the attention of readers who might not otherwise be invested in your project.
The Café level allows you to highlight three to five key pieces of data that you really want to share. A Café level deliverable is great for busy stakeholders who need to know detailed information but don’t have time to read a full report. Examples include one-page reports, a short PowerPoint deck, and short briefs. Make sure to include a link to your full evaluation report to encourage the reader to move on to the next communication level.
The Research Library is the level at which we find the traditional evaluation report. Deliverables at this level require the reader to have an interest in the topic and to spend a substantial amount of time to digest the information.
The Lab is the most intensive and involved level of data communication. Here, readers have a chance to interact with the data. This level goes beyond a static report and allows stakeholders to personalize the data for their interests. For those who have the knowledge and expertise in creating dashboards and interactive data, providing data at the Lab level is a great way to engage with your audience and allow the reader to manipulate the data to their needs.
We hope this blog has sparked some interest in the different ways an evaluation report can be repackaged. Different audiences have different information needs and different amounts of time to spend reviewing reports. We encourage both project staff and evaluators to consider who their intended audience is and what would be the best level to communicate their findings. Then use these ideas to create content specific for that audience.
In 2016, I was an intern at the Evaluation Office (EVAL) of the International Labour Organization, where the constant question was, “How do we get people to read the reports that we spend so much time and energy on?” I had been looking for a new project that would be useful to my colleagues in EVAL, and a bolt of inspiration hit me: what if I could use the key points and information from one of the dense reports to make an interactive summary report? That project led me to the general concept of interactive documents, which can be used for reports, timelines, logic models, and more.
I recommend building interactive documents in PowerPoint and then exporting them as PDFs. I use Adobe Acrobat Pro to add clickable areas to the PDF that will lead readers to a particular section of the PDF or to a webpage. Interactive documents are not intended to be read from beginning to end. It should be easy for readers to navigate directly from the front page to the content that interests them, and back to the front page.
While building my interactive documents in PowerPoint, I follow Nancy Duarte’s Slidedocs principles to create visual documents that are intended to be read rather than presented. She suggests providing content that is clear and concise, using small chunks of text, and interspersing visuals. I use multiple narrow columns of text, with visuals on each page.
Interactive documents include a “launch page,” which gives a map-like overview of the whole document.
The launch page (see figure) allows readers to absorb the structure and main points of the document and to decide where they want to “zoom in” for more detail. I try to follow the wise advice of Edward Tufte: “Don’t ‘know your audience.’ Know your content and trust your audience.” He argues that we shouldn’t try to distill key points and simplify our data to make it easier for audiences to absorb. Readers will each have their own agendas and priorities, and we should make it as easy as possible for them to access the data that is most useful to them.
The launch page of an interactive document should have links all over it; every item of content on the launch page should lead readers to more detailed information on that topic. Every subsequent page should be extremely focused on one topic. If there is too much content within one topic, you can create another launch page focused on that particular topic (e.g., the “Inputs” section of the logic model).
The content pages should have buttons (i.e., links) that allow readers to navigate back to the main launch page or forward to the following page. If there’s a more detailed document that you’re building from, you may also want to link to that document on every page.
Try it out! Remember to keep your interactive document concise and navigable.
With any initiative, it can be valuable to document and describe the implementation to understand what occurred and what shifts or changes were made to the original design (e.g., fidelity to the model). This understanding helps when replicating, scaling, or seeking future funding for the initiative.
Documentation can be done by the evaluator and be shared with the grantee (as a way to validate an evaluator’s understanding of the project). Alternatively, project staff can document progress and share this with the evaluator as a way to keep the evaluation team up to date (which is especially helpful on small-budget evaluation projects).
The documentation of progress can be extremely detailed or high level (e.g., a snapshot of the initiative’s development). When tracking implementation milestones, consider:
- What is the goal of the document?
- Who is the audience?
- What are the most effective ways to display and group the data?
For example, if you are interested in understanding a snapshot of milestones and modifications of the original project design, you might use a structure like the one below:
If you are especially interested in highlighting the effect of delays on project implementation and the cause, you may adjust the visual to include directional arrows and shading:
In these examples, we organized the snapshot by quarterly progress, but you can group milestones by month or even include a timeline of the events. Similarly, in Image 2 we categorized progress in buckets (e.g., curriculum, staffing) based on key areas of the grant’s goals and activities. These categories should change to align with the unique focus of each initiative. For example, if professional development is a considerable part of the grant, then perhaps placing that into a separate category (instead of combining it with staffing) would be best.
Another important consideration is the target audience. We have used this framework when communicating with project staff and leadership to show, at a high level, what is taking place within the project. This diagramming has also been valuable for sharing knowledge across our evaluation staff members, leading to discussions around fidelity to the model and any shifts or changes that may need to occur within the evaluation design, based on project implementation. Some of your stakeholders, such as project funders, may want more information than just the snapshot. In these cases, you may consider adding additional detail to the snapshot visual, or starting your report with the snapshot and then providing an additional narrative around each bucket and/or time period covered within the visual.
Also, the framework itself can be modified. If, for example, you are more concerned about showing the cause and effect instead of adjustments, you may group everything together as “milestones” instead of having separate categories for “adjustments” and “additional milestones.”
For our evaluation team, this approach has been a helpful way to consolidate, disseminate, and discuss initiative milestones with key stakeholder groups such as initiative staff, evaluators, college leadership, and funders. We hope this will be valuable to you as well.
One-page evaluation reports are a great way to provide a snapshot of a project’s activities and impact to stakeholders such as advisory groups, college administrators, and NSF program officers. Summarizing key evaluation facts in a format that is easily and quickly digestible engages the busy reader and can make your project stand out.
Although traditional, long-form evaluation reports are still an excellent way to distribute evaluation results, one-page reports increase the engagement, understanding, and use of evaluation for both the current grant and leveraging findings with potential follow-up grants.
In this webinar, we will provide you with the tools and resources you need to create effective one-page reports and share some examples that have worked well in our practice.
For many new grantees and seasoned principal investigators, nothing is more daunting than an email from Research.gov titled “Annual Project Report Is NOW DUE.” In this blog post, I will help tackle the challenge of writing the annual project report by highlighting the strategy Columbus State Community College has developed for effectively writing annual reports and discussing why this strategy also serves as a planning and feedback tool.
Columbus State’s strategy for Advanced Technological Education (ATE) annual reporting developed organically, with input and collaboration from faculty, staff, and external evaluators, and is based on three key components:
- shared knowledge of reporting requirements and format,
- a structured annual reporting timeline, and
- best-practice sharing and learning from past experience.
This three-pronged approach was utilized by four ATE projects during 2017 and builds on the old adage that “you only get out what you put in.” The key to annual reporting, which also serves as an important planning and feedback tool, is the adoption of a structured annual reporting timeline. The 10-week timeline outlined below ensures that adequate time is dedicated to writing the annual report. The timeline is designed to be collaborative and spur discussion around key milestones, lessons learned, and next steps for revising and improving project plans.
Week 1: Communicating Reporting Requirements
- Review the annual reports resource guide, the project reports template, and previous annual reports.
- Assign roles and share the reporting timeline with the project team and your evaluator.
Weeks 1-3: Planning and Data Collection
- All team members should actively participate in the planning and data collection phase.
- Project teams should collect a wide breadth of information related to project achievements and milestones. Common types of information collected include individual progress updates, work samples, project work plans and documentation, survey and evaluation feedback, and project metrics.
Week 4: Group Brainstorming
- Schedule a 60- to 90-minute meeting that focuses specifically on brainstorming and discussing content for the annual report. Include all project team members and your evaluator.
- Use the project reports template to guide the conversation.
Weeks 5-6: First Draft Writing and Clarification Seeking
- All information is compiled by the project team and assembled into a first draft.
- It may be useful to mirror the format of a grant proposal or project narrative during this phase to ensure that all project areas are addressed and considered.
- The focus of this stage is ensuring that all information is accurately captured and integrated.
Week 7: First Draft Review
- First drafts should be reviewed by the project team and two to three people outside of the project team.
- Including individuals from both inside and outside of the project team will help ensure that useful content is not omitted and that content is presented in an accessible manner.
Weeks 8-9: Final Revisions
- Feedback and comments are evaluated and final revisions are made.
Week 10: Annual Report Submission
- The final version of the annual report, with appendices and the evaluation report, is uploaded and submitted through Research.gov.
For additional information about Columbus State’s writing tips, please view our full white paper.
Read more from the community here.
Traditional, long-form reports are often used to detail the depth and specifics of an evaluation. However, many readers simply don’t have the time or bandwidth to digest a 30-page report. Distilling the key information into one page can help catch the eye of busy program staff, college administrators, or policy makers.
When we say “one pager,” we mean a single-page document that summarizes evaluation data, findings, or recommendations. It’s generally a stand-alone document that supplements a longer report, dataset, or presentation.
One pagers are a great way to get your client the data they need to guide data-driven decisions. These summaries can work well as companion documents for long reports or as a highlight piece for an interim report. We created a 10-step process to help facilitate the creation of a one pager. Additional materials are available, including detailed slides, grid layouts, videos, and more.
Ten-step process for creating a one pager:
1. Identify the audience
Be specific about who you are talking to and their information priorities. The content and layout of the document should be tailored to meet the needs of this audience.
2. Identify the purpose
Write a purpose statement that identifies why you are creating the one pager. This will help you decide what information to include or to exclude.
3. Prioritize your information
Categorize the information most relevant to your audience. Then rank each category from highest to lowest priority to help inform layout of the document.
4. Choose a grid
Use a grid to intentionally organize elements visually for readers. Check out our free pre-made grids, which you can use for your own one pagers, and instructions on how to use them in PowerPoint (video).
5. Draft the layout
Print out your grid layout and sketch your design by hand. This will allow you to think creatively without technological barriers and will save you time.
6. Create an intentional visual path
Pay attention to how the reader’s eye moves around the page. Use elements like large numbers, ink density, and icons to guide the reader’s visual path. Keep in mind the page symmetry and need to balance visual density. For more tips, see Canva’s Design Elements and Principles.
7. Create a purposeful hierarchy
Use headings intentionally to help your readers navigate and identify the content.
8. Use white space
The brain subconsciously views content grouped together as a cohesive unit. Add white space to indicate that a new section is starting.
9. Get feedback
Run your designs by a colleague or client to help catch errors, note areas needing clarification, and ensure the document makes sense to others. You will likely need to go through a few rounds of feedback before the document is finalized.
10. Triple-check consistency
Triple-check, and possibly quadruple-check, for consistency of fonts, alignment, size, and colors. Style guides can be a useful way to keep track of consistency in and across documents. Take a look at EvaluATE’s style guide here.
The demand for one pagers is growing, and now you are equipped with the information you need to succeed in creating one. So, start creating your one pagers now!
This video provides an overview of EvaluATE’s Checklist for Program Evaluation Report Content, and three reasons why this checklist is useful to evaluators and clients.
Project evaluators are aware that evaluation aims to support learning and improvement. Through a series of planned interactions, event observations, and document reviews, the evaluator is charged with reporting to the project leadership team and ultimately the project’s funding agency, informing audiences of the project’s merit. This is not to suggest that reporting should only aim to identify positive impacts and outcomes of the project. Equally, there is substantive value in informing audiences of unintended and unattained project outcomes.
Evaluation reporting should discuss aspects of the project’s outcomes, whether anticipated, questionable, or unintended. When examining project outcomes the evaluator analyzes obtained information and facilitates project leadership through reflective thinking exercises for the purpose of defining the significance of the project and summarizing why outcomes matter.
Let’s be clear, outcomes are not to be regarded as something negative. In fact, with the projects that I have evaluated over the years, outcomes have frequently served as an introspective platform informing future curriculum decisions and directions internal to the institutional funding recipient. For example, the outcomes of one STEM project that focused on renewable energy technicians provided the institution with information that prompted the development of subsequent proposals and projects targeting engineering pathways.
Discussion and reporting of project outcomes also encapsulates lessons learned and affords the opportunity for the evaluator to ask questions such as:
- Did the project increase the presence of the target group in identified STEM programs?
- What initiatives will be sustained during post funding to maintain an increased presence of the target group in STEM programs?
- Did project activities contribute to the retention/completion rates of the target group in identified STEM programs?
- Which activities seemed to have the greatest/least impact on retention/completion rates?
- On reflection, are there activities that could have more significantly contributed to retention/completion rates that were not implemented as part of the project?
- To what extent did the project supply regional industries with a more diverse STEM workforce?
- What effect will this have on regional industries during post project funding?
- Were partners identified in the proposal realistic contributors to the funded project? Did they ensure a successful implementation enabling the attainment of anticipated outcomes?
- What was learned about the characteristics of “good” and “bad” partners?
- What are characteristics to look for and avoid to maximize productivity with future work?
Factors influencing outcomes include, but are not limited to:
- Institutional changes, e.g., leadership;
- Partner constraints or changes; and
- Project/budgetary limitations.
In some instances, it is not unusual for the proposed project to be somewhat grandiose in identifying intended outcomes. Yet, when project implementation gets underway, intended activities may be compromised by external challenges. For example, when equipment is needed to support various aspects of a project, procurement and production channels may contribute to delays in equipment acquisition, thus adversely effecting project leadership’s ability to launch planned components of the project.
As a tip, it is worthwhile for those seeking funding to pose the outcome questions at the front-end of the project – when the proposal is being developed. Doing this will assist them in conceptualizing the intellectual merit and impact of the proposed project.
Resources and Links:
Developing an Effective Evaluation Report: Setting the Course for Effective Program Evaluation. Atlanta, Georgia: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity, 2013.