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EEE Week: Brigitte Scott on Data Visualization for Extension Evaluation

My name is Brigitte Scott and I am the Evaluation and Research Specialist for the Military Families Learning Network (MFLN), which engages military family service professionals in high-quality, research-based professional development. The MFLN is part of the Department of Defense (DoD) – U.S. Department of Agriculture / National Institute for Food and Agriculture Partnership for Military Families (USDA/NIFA) and is also a part of eXtension—the online branch of America’s Cooperative Extension System (CES). Evaluation for the MFLN comes with a few challenges—leadership, PIs, and staff are spread out across the country; our cooperative funding agreement requires nimble and flexible programming (Hello, developmental evaluation!); and constituents in multiple institutions have different ways of communicating and varied reporting needs.

Lesson Learned: When I first began working with MFLN, I drew heavily on my background in qualitative methods, and all of my mixed methods reports took on a narrative form. However, the reports weren’t getting read. With competitive funding forever at stake in an era of sequestration, this had to change.

Enter data visualization. At AEA 2014, I took a two-day data viz workshop with Stephanie Evergreen. It was invaluable! My reports are still works in progress, but I know now they are being read. How? Folks are actually contacting me with questions! My reports are getting circulated at DoD, which has meant increased awareness of MFLN and a lot of kudos for our work. (It doesn’t hurt come budget time, either.) PIs and staff are utilizing the reports to discuss their progress against dynamic plans of work while focusing on the moving target of program innovation.

Hot tip: CES just celebrated its 100th birthday last year, but make sure your reports aren’t dinosaurs! Your reports—your efforts!—need to be seen and heard to be actionable. I like to think of CES as power to the people. If you agree with me, then give data viz a try to get your points across and support CES in making a difference in counties across the nation.

Hot tip: Data visualization isn’t all about Excel. Arrange key verbal points on a page with clean, clear data. Pull out a thread from a data story and expand it in a text box, or pick up qualitatively where your quantitative story said its piece.

Hot tip: Font and color matter. Use your organization’s visual identities in your reports to let readers know that your report concerns them and their work.

Rad resource: Check out AEA’s offerings on data visualization, including workshops, coffee breaks, and of course, the annual meeting data viz sessions. They really are amazing!

Rad resource: Stephanie’s workshops are a must, but so is her book. Check them both out!

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Extension Education Evaluation (EEE) TIG Week with our colleagues in the EEE AEA Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our EEE 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.

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