Indiana Evaluation Association Week: Communicating through Data Visualization by Amanda Vote

Greetings, colleagues! I am Amanda Vote, a consultant with Diehl Consulting Group in southern Indiana and a member of the Indiana Evaluation Association. As evaluators, we often rely on data visualization (such as charts, maps, and graphs) to help communicate findings and messages. Here, I have provided a high-level review of my lessons learned when creating effective visuals.

First: Learn about Your Audience. As evaluators, we work and communicate with a variety of stakeholder groups. The first considerations to be mindful of when creating any type of data viz are the needs, backgrounds, and general knowledge of your audience. How comfortable is your audience with data? Do they need a big picture summary or are they more interested in the finer details? I am currently working with an organization in southern Indiana that is piloting an educator training model with a number of early learning centers. When the organization communicates their findings, their needs for visuals vary depending on their audience. Specifically, the graphs shared with early learning educators need not necessarily be the same that are shared with funders, parents, or community members. Remember that your audiences will likely have different needs when interpreting a set of data.

  • Rad Resource: Ann Emory gives a detailed list of questions to ask yourself when identifying your audience.

Second: Clarify Your Message. Once you have identified your target audience, begin thinking about the information that is the most important for them to know. In order to communicate a clear message that packs the biggest punch, look for and highlight findings in the data that speak clearly to the message you wish to convey. Drafting data visuals may result in a few visuals that can be shared across multiple audiences, a set of visuals for individual stakeholder groups, or a mix of both. 

  • Rad Resource: Stephanie Evergreen gives a great description of working through data viz options with a client and helping them “find their point.”

Third: Maximize Your Accessibility. A visual’s usefulness is directly tied to its ability to be interpreted. Utilizing a client’s logo or website color scheme can be a wonderful way to personalize graphs, charts, and tables. Still, it is crucial to be mindful of your visuals’ accessibility to others. For example, I work with a nonprofit in Indiana that does not have a color printer. Therefore, we ensure that their visuals can be read clearly in black and white. Additionally, consider using colors that can easily be distinguished by people with color blindness. 

  • Rad Resource: This website is a terrific resource for testing your images. 

No matter what your level of experience is with data viz, I hope these steps and resources will help you create new ways of communicating your data. Please feel free to drop your data viz tips in the comments!

The American Evaluation Association is hosting Indiana Evaluation Association (IEA) Affiliate Week. The contributions all this week to AEA365 come from IEA 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 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.

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