What good is a program evaluation if its findings aren’t used? Not much. Even as an accountability mechanism, evaluations have the potential to demonstrate the impact a program is having in the world and reveal new insights to guide strategy in ways that few other things can. Although there are many ways to convey evaluation findings, one of the most typical is through an evaluation report.
A good report should not only reflect what happened in the program but also inspire its readers to take action based on the report. This involves making sure the key points are made, but also that the findings are communicated in ways that can be easily understood by audiences who may not have access to the evaluator or program staff (which is why reports are written and codified and why, despite their limitations, are unlikely to disappear).
There are courses aimed at preparing stronger evaluation reports, best practice reports, tools for creative visualization and entire literature fields based on knowledge translation. But if you want to create real impact, you need to deliver knowledge to where it is intended for purposes that may not be fully known because great data reports create possibilities, not just communicate results.
Just as the image above illustrates the many ways light and structure can be reflected, so too can the contents of an evaluation report inspire new ways of seeing programs, data, and strategic opportunities. It all comes down to how the data is presented and in what measure. To support this, we present some tools, people and resources that can help you in making better use of the opportunity that an evaluation report offers through visualization and better communication design.
Stephanie Evergreen’s a specialist in data visualization for evaluation. Her website features a lot of great resources including links to her books, resource cards and includes tips and tricks to take everyday data and transform it into something attractive, engaging and more useful for audiences.
Kylie Hutchinson, an evaluator and a passionate advocate for better communication in program evaluation, has produced a wonderfully appropriate new resource for evaluators called the Evaluation Reporting Guide that is available through her website. It is a useful guide for being more innovative in the way evaluation findings are reported and comes from someone who knows how to do it.
Kumu is a tool that takes networked data and allows anyone with a basic understanding of network theory to create useful, interactive visuals that can be manipulated and presented in different formats for audiences looking to see the bigger picture.
Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic writes a wonderful blog on how to tell better stories through data combining data visualization with tips on narrative writing that can help even the least creative person imagine new possibilities through the data they have available.
Sometimes it’s just about seeing examples. This post from Import provides some classic examples from the history of data visualization and the latest research to illustrate how data has been used to showcase findings from research and evaluation in creative ways to tell better stories.
Lastly, no commentary on ways to see data differently would be complete without a mention of the incredible works of Edward Tufte, one of the pioneers in data visualization and author of some of the most beautiful, provocative works on the subject ever written.
Creating pictures, telling stories.
Each of these resources provide different ways to see, play with, and present evaluation findings and data. There is no ‘right’ way to do it, rather there are many ways to tell stories and some will resonate with your audience. Data visualization and creative report writing is only good if you know what your audience wants, who they are, and what their motivations are to engage with your content.
The best visuals will not help if you aren’t delivering a product that an audience is ready to see or able to act on, but it is a start. A better looking, more coherent report told through visuals utilizes more of our senses and provides greater opportunities for more people to engage with its content by relying on more than just logic, ‘hard numbers’ and evidence to include things like narrative, emotion, and relationships – the things that make us all human whether we are a data whiz or not.
If you’re looking to make more impactful use of the knowledge you have in your organization, connect with us and we can help you to take the best of what you know and transform it into stories about what you do to those that matter.