AEA365 | A Tip-a-Day by and for Evaluators

Apr/11

16

Susan Kistler on Training and Data Visualization

Susan Kistler here, the American Evaluation Association’s Executive Director. Excited to connect after a long, but very productive, week. I spent the last week in Philadelphia training with Stephen McDaniel, author of Rapid Graphs with Tableau and SAS for Dummies, striving to up my game around data visualization and reporting.

Lesson Learned: The question you are trying to answer must drive the analysis and data visualization. Choose carefully, and when using software that facilitates it, look at your data in multiple ways to identify the best way to tell your data story and empower your stakeholders to explore and learn from the data that can help them to make decisions.

Lesson Learned: First, go for clarity and accuracy, then – and only then – go for aesthetics, when visualizing data. Don’t sacrifice data integrity for the sake of pretty. And, you shouldn’t have to. You can have both. Corollary: Don’t provide data in a particular chart format just because it’s what people like. Pie charts may look like pie and evoke thoughts of grandma and steaming apple goodness, but they are rarely the right charting option because people can’t readily compare pie slices and perceive proportions accurately in this format.

Rad Resource & Hot Tip: Stephen gave out Rapid Dashboard Reference Cards that you can purchase, that help in selecting and improving visualizations. However, you can also get the reference card content, for free, as an ap for iPhone and Android (although I have to admit that I rather liked the full-page laminated versions because I could compare options on a single page).

Lesson Learned About Training: There is no substitute for learning at the feet of a master. And I’m not just saying this because I coordinate training for AEA. I’d been using Tableau Software for months. I’d read Stephen’s book. I’d watched Tableau’s free webinars (which are quite good by the way if you’re a Tableau user). However, in four days of live training I (a) built confidence in the areas where I was on the right track; (b) learned multiple minute details and in particular time-saving shortcuts that only became apparent when seeing someone demonstrate the concepts and software in real time, and (c) moved through roadblocks that I had not been able to surmount via reference manuals and trial-and-error. I’ll now not only be faster, but also more capable and able to produce a better product.

Rad Resource: Reflecting on the above, registration just opened for the AEA/CDC Summer Evaluation Institute this June in Atlanta. It’s open to anyone who wishes to improve their evaluation or applied research skills and brings together over 40 top workshop facilitators exploring the breadth and depth of the field.

The opinions above are my own and do not represent the official position of AEA nor an endorsement by the association. If you would like to add to or extend this discussion, please add to the comments below the post on the aea365 website.

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