Greetings evaluation enthusiasts! We are Katherine Haugh, Smriti Bajracharya and Kat Athanasiades from Innovation Network.
We have found timelines to be an incredibly useful tool, and believe they are underutilized in the evaluation world. We’d like to change that! For the past few years, we have incorporated timelines into our data analysis process, integrated visual timelines into text-heavy reports, and used them as facilitative tools to increase stakeholder engagement.
Hot Tip: Timelines can be used for data analysis. Visual timelines allow evaluators to see correlations between different events and more easily identify patterns, themes, and trends. This is a rough draft of a timeline that we created for a client, mapping ten years of immigration reform grantmaking. Various contextual elements impacting immigration reform—presidents, major legislative events, and many others—are organized in a visually appealing and clear way. Visual timelines allow evaluators to “zoom out” from a single event so that they can better understand the context in which that event occurred.
Major legislative events
Presidential election cycles:
Rad Resource: The above timeline benefitted from a great deal of formatting and data viz expertise! In Make Your Data Count, we outline the five elements of visual reporting and cover tips for formatting and refining visual report elements—like timelines—in this handout.
Hot Tip: Timelines are an incredibly useful visual addition to a text-heavy report. We created a timeline that looks similar to the one below to complement the aforementioned immigration reform report. This timeline helped us better understand the structural changes that the immigration reform coalition underwent between 2004 and 2007. This timeline also allowed us (and our audience) to visualize and comprehend how and why the coalition evolved over time. Timelines are especially useful for advocacy evaluations in which different players, goals, and resources are constantly shifting.
Hot Tip: Timelines can be used as a tool for increasing stakeholder engagement. For example, in a health advocacy project, community members timelined (yes, a verb!) past successes and challenges in an effort to understand their forward progress around improving health policies. These timelines allowed community members to visualize their work and strategies as a group, helping them interpret their experiences and creating a shared understanding of their anticipated long road to success.
This timeline’s time periods are shown across the bottom. Red text indicates particularly important events in the time periods.
Rad Resource: We presented at AEA2015 in Chicago on “Putting Data in Context: Timelining for Evaluators.” For more tips and tools for creating visual timelines, check out our slides and this handout from the presentation.
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