Bringing Evaluation Data to Life Using Power BI by Hannah McMillan

Hello, AEA365 community! Liz DiLuzio here, Lead Curator of the blog. This week is Individuals Week, which means we take a break from our themed weeks and spotlight the Hot Tips, Cool Tricks, Rad Resources and Lessons Learned from any evaluator interested in sharing. Would you like to contribute to future individuals weeks? Email me at AEA365@eval.org with an idea or a draft and we will make it happen.


Greetings, fellow evaluators! My name is Hannah McMillan, and I am an evaluator at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. I work on monitoring and evaluating programs related to enhancing state, tribal, local, and territorial health department capacity.

The challenge: Limited time and resources available to report on a fast-paced, public health emergency grant addressing COVID-19 disparities.

In early 2021, CDC administered a $2.25-billion-dollar flexible grant to over 100 health departments with the goal of reducing COVID-19 related health disparities for populations who have been disproportionately affected and underserved  and who have experienced high burden of disease during the pandemic. Our team was tasked with quickly analyzing and reporting takeaways from the initial work plans submitted by recipients with their grant applications. The work plans contained rich information including summaries of the activities that recipients plan to implement, populations they intend to serve and partners they plan to work with. The rapid descriptive and qualitative analyses and subsequent reporting were critical to ensure we could concisely describe planned work in a digestible format, identify priority data elements to collect, and ground our evaluation approach.

After the rapid analysis was complete, we brainstormed ways to build an effective evaluation report that could be used by our various partners to learn more about health department’s plans to address COVID-19 health disparities using grant funds. Because of the high profile and flexible nature of the grant, many different key questions needed to be answered. We had to make sure the report was easy to understand and adaptable for our diverse audiences such as programmatic and policy staff members.  We wanted to keep partner burden as low as possible and maximize use of the findings. Our team was also short on time and staff and did not have the space to create endless static reports for each specific audience and particular question.

Hot Tip:

Use evaluation data to create a dynamic report of findings in Power BI

We landed on creating a dynamic report in Power BI that effectively visualized all the data from the analysis in a way that allowed partners to explore the data based on their own needs. We imported the clean quantitative and qualitative data from Excel into Power BI and created relationships so all the data are interconnected. This allowed for the use of multi-dimensional filters to drill down based on users’ variables and questions of interest.

Tips to keep in mind while creating a dynamic report:

  • Implement data visualization best practices to ensure clarity of findings.
  • Match complexity level with the intended audiences so they aren’t overwhelmed using the visualizations or report.
  • Train your audience while sharing the report to increase chances of use. For example, we created a complementary, short demonstration video communicating both how to use the report and interpret the findings.
  • Maintain an iterative process to keep improving the report as you gather user feedback.

Rad Resource:

LinkedIn Learning has a variety of data visualization and software classes, including Power BI courses. The classes are self-paced and helped me learn new tricks while developing the report!

Because we maintained a focus on use throughout development, the report provided immediate insights to support grant planning and grounded our overall evaluation approach for the grant.  We look forward to refining and maximizing this solution using Power BI reports to better disseminate evaluation findings. Don’t be afraid to try something innovative and creative – we found that the tight timeline pushed us outside of our comfort zone and allowed us to create something new that increased reporting efficiencies and will have lasting impacts on our evaluation work.


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