Harlan Luxenberg on Creating Streamlined, Visually Appealing Reports with Crystal Reports

Hello! I am Harlan Luxenberg, the Chief Operating Officer of Professional Data Analysts, Inc. (PDA), a small firm in Minneapolis specializing in public health evaluation. Over the years we have worked on multiple projects where we needed to do one or more of the following:

  • report to a diverse set of stakeholders about program outcomes
  • report on the comparability of outcomes across multiple projects or summative outcome targets
  • create report cards or dashboard-like reports for multi-site evaluations

In our search for a powerful software suite that would allow us to efficiently do these tasks while producing visually appealing reports for our clients, we found Crystal Reports. Crystal Reports is not well known in evaluation circles since it is primarily used in the financial industry. But don’t let that fool you! We have been using it over the past eight years to provide reports to educational institutions, health care providers, and individual stakeholders.

We have found Crystal Reports to be one of the most useful programs in our data visualization toolkit. While the latest version (2011) does cost nearly $500, you can download a free 30 day demo or buy an earlier version online (like 2008) for less than $400. We have even used Crystal Reports in conjunction with LimeSurvey, an open source and completely free online survey tool. To see more about why we love using LimeSurvey and our experience using it in our evaluations, visit our blog posts on it here.

Hot Tip: Create a report template to save time and reduce the potential for errors. To create similar looking reports for different grantees that you are evaluating, simply put the data into a worksheet or database (like Excel). Then connect Crystal to your dataset and you’re ready to create an attractive grantee-specific report that looks similar across grantees. Each report can be developed to only use data from an individual grantee.

Hot Tip: It’s secure! When using fancy dashboard software or even Excel, you often have to give your clients access to your raw data. With Crystal Reports, you can export reports into various formats (like PDF), or your clients can access reports online or through a viewer (both very easy to do). This is especially useful if you are comparing one organization’s data against others and do not want to provide raw aggregate data to everyone.

Resource: If you’d like to see Crystal Reports in action, you can view a template for a standard grantee-specific report that we created for processing Olweus Bullying Prevention Program data.

Lesson Learned: Learning a new software program can be hard! With Crystal Reports, there are extremely helpful online forums where other users will help answer your questions. My favorite is Tek-Tips.

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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