DVR TIG Week: Shifting Data Visualization Feedback From Criticism to Curiosity by Elizabeth Grim

Hi! My name is Elizabeth Grim (she/her) of Elizabeth Grim Consulting, LLC. I am an evaluation consultant helping organizations build their evaluation capacity and tell their story through data. I am also President Elect of the Eastern Evaluation Research Society (EERS).

Years ago, when I first learned about data visualization, I went all in. I read books and blogs, listened to podcasts, attended workshops, and poured over the guiding principles. I thought that if I understood the rules, then I could get it “right.”

But focusing on getting things “right” presents challenges. It perpetuates dichotomous thinking and stifles creativity. It often prioritizes Western ways of thinking and leaves out community voice. It raises criticism rather than encouraging conversation.

When we focus solely on the dos and don’ts of data visualization, feedback begins to sound like: always start your axis at zero, do not reverse your axis, never use a pie chart, or stay away from the color red. (None of those statements are true 100% of the time.) Spoiler alert, hiding these comments in an oreo cookie feedback format often still sounds critical.

Lessons Learned:

Switching our thinking from getting it “right” by following the rules to getting it “right” by serving the greater purpose, client, and community changes the feedback. By shifting the focus, we welcome in conversation, creativity, and curiosity.

Questions to ask when giving feedback about a visualization include:

  • What type of feedback are you looking for on this visualization?
  • What was your process for creating this visualization?
  • What are the key takeaways you would like readers to know?

Questions to ask when seeking feedback about a visualization include:

  • What did you notice about this visualization?
  • What questions came up for you after seeing this visualization?
  • How might you use this visualization to inform decisions?

Key phrases to think about when giving feedback:

  • I wonder…
  • I suggest…
  • Tell me more about…
  • I’m curious about…
  • You may consider…
  • What do you think about…

These questions and phrases help us to understand what choices went into the design, the potential impact of the visual, and where feedback may or may not be desired.

Rad Resources:

Soft Landing, Firm Impact: Practical Tips on How to Give and Receive Meaningful Data Visualization Feedback – this Outlier Conference presentation by Candra McRae provides suggestions for being clear and humble when giving and receiving feedback.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Data Visualization and Reporting (DVR) Week with our colleagues in the DVR Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from DVR 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. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

2 thoughts on “DVR TIG Week: Shifting Data Visualization Feedback From Criticism to Curiosity by Elizabeth Grim”

  1. Dear Elizabeth Grim,

    Thank you for your vulnerable and concise article regarding data visualization and the focus on focusing away from Criticism to Curiosity.

    The one part of your article that stuck out to me that I found myself so grateful for reading was “focusing on getting things “right” presents challenges. It perpetuates dichotomous thinking and stifles creativity. It often prioritizes Western ways of thinking and leaves out community voice. It raises criticism rather than encouraging conversation”. I really appreciated the focus away from the priority of getting things “right” because than it allows for room for dialogue, creativity, learning, reflection, and reflexivity, which from a non-Western perspective allows people to dive deeper in their learning and growth as opposed to sealing the envelope and never wanting to open it up again and believing the work is fully complete. Furthermore, I appreciated the move away from the Western approach, ways of thinking and rather left it open for other approaches, ways of thinking, doing, or learning because historically that is not only the one way of approach and it is important, we acknowledge other ways, as we say in learning and developing individualized plans “one size does not fit all”.

    The questions you pose in the frames allow for dialogue and growth and it is refreshing to see others willing to say let’s dive deeper in our learning from the data beyond the one purpose and be done because the feedback could help expand further studies with the data or open new avenues with the data. If I may ask my own wondering, how have you found the response to your post and what would you consider changing or adding upon reflection of your initial post?

    Thank you kindly and I hope this response finds you well and in good health.

  2. Pingback: Shifting Data Visualization Feedback From Criticism to Curiosity - Elizabeth Grim

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