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DEOET TIG Week: Jessica Hearn on Using Images, Graphics, and Online Sources for Evaluation and Teaching

Hello! I’m Jessica Hearn, Director of the Evaluation Center and graduate faculty at the University of Kentucky’s College of Education. While there are many approaches to evaluation, we at the Center like Patton’s Utilization Focused Evaluations because it emphasizes the utility or usefulness of evaluation for stakeholder decision-making and program improvement.

Working with diverse stakeholders over the years, I discovered it is not only important what information is collected, but also how that information is presented to clients. Recently, it became clear to me that clients were often not reading the Center’s reports. These evaluations were not providing the service they should, and that in part, that was because more traditional and academic formats for presenting findings were not engaging or understandable.

Now, whether working with clients or teaching graduate students, I ask that evaluators consider how information is presented to meet the needs of varied stakeholders. This is accomplished by considering how information can be more strikingly portrayed using infographics and visualization techniques.

Lessons Learned: It benefits stakeholders to move away from traditional reports and include graphics, callouts, colors, and more. Data visualization and infographics goes a long way towards telling the evaluation story and free and inexpensive tools are available online.

Cool Trick: Although not new, a Wordle to form word clouds helps to quantify and visualize qualitative data. The more frequently occurring words appear larger and reflect the more salient theme. It is like a visual frequency table of key words. It works very effectively for reporting on open ended questionnaire responses or synthesizing concepts from a stakeholder webpage.

Hot Tip: For a dynamic presentation of complex data, you can’t beat the work of Hans Rosling. His videos on the graphical Gapminder website can help evaluators at all level learn to develop motion charts. This dynamic approach of presenting is fresh, entertaining, intuitive, and educational.

Rad Resource: For print and web graphics, the online design program Canva helps to present information in interesting and professional ways. It takes some practice to create, but there are tutorials to help.

Rad Resource: For a more academic approach to visualizing data, New Directions for Evaluation dedicated two issues (139 and 140) to the topic.

Rad Resource: The Better Evaluation website has descriptions and resources to complete evaluations using the Utilization Focused Evaluations (UFE) approach.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating DEOET TIG Week with our colleagues in the Distance Education and Other Educational Technologies Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our DEOET TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

1 thought on “DEOET TIG Week: Jessica Hearn on Using Images, Graphics, and Online Sources for Evaluation and Teaching”

  1. Thanks for your thoughtful post – I love Gapminder for bringing data to life.

    A word of caution on considering Wordles as a way to see themes in qualitative data though: Wordles are programmed to count word frequency of individual words. This means that specific phrases (say “health system” instead of just “health” or “system”) and phrases with the same meaning do not get counted together, but instead as discrete words.

    So, while wordles can be great for creating nice looking visual elements for presentations and reports, I think it’s a stretch to identify it as a tool for quantifying qualitative information.

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