I recently had the chance to be on the Community Possibilities® podcast with Ann Price. Ann owns Community Evaluation Solutions and helps community leaders plan and evaluate strategies to create lasting change. She started the podcast as a way to connect with community leaders to talk about root causes, dig deeper into understanding social and health inequities and to connect by talking with each other instead of at each other.
We connected through our mutual speaking coach, Heather Sager’s Speak Up to Level Up class. We’ve since followed each other’s careers and were excited to talk together.
Listen to the Podcast
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3 Tips for Visualizing Social Change Data
In the podcast, we discussed three tips for coalitions, foundations, and nonprofits that are visualizing social change data.
Involve Others in the Data Process Early and Often
First, get the staff, partners, and community members involved in the data sense-making process early and often.
My favorite technique for involving others is the data placemat process, which I learned from my previous supervisor, Veena Pankaj.
It goes like this:
- First, we compile preliminary findings into a few handouts, or data placemats. Lots of ugly graphs. Lots of unformatted graphs.
- Second, we share those data placemats with stakeholders during a data interpretation meeting. We ask the attendees whether they were surprised by any graphs, what additional information they need, etc. We get them to talk about the graphs in their own words.
- Finally, we go back and write the final report (or design the final slideshow, or the final infographic) with the stakeholders’ interpretations of the graphs included.
You can read more about data placemats in this article that Veena and I wrote for the American Evaluation Association.
Share Aggregated or Disaggregated Data as Appropriate
Next, figure out whether audiences need aggregated or disaggregated data.
Let’s pretend that a nonprofit is running a GRE test prep program for high schoolers. As part of the program, the students take lots of practice tests to see when they’re ready to go take the actual GRE test.
The students in the program need disaggregated data. They need to see their own individual data to determine how they’re doing and if they’re ready individually.
A lot of times, the staff who are running the programs also care most about disaggregated data. That means they want to see data specific to each student so that they can individualize their instruction.
There are also some aggregated summary statistics that might be helpful for those staff. For example, the staff might need to see averages.
Current funders, prospective funders, and other collaborators will also benefit from aggregated data like averages. For example, they might want to see people in this year’s class compared to last year’s class, or this location’s class compared to a different location’s class.
Problems can arise when there’s a mismatch.
For example, if you only show the students the aggregated data, it feels too distant. Finding out the group’s average scores is helpful… but not as helpful as knowing your own scores. Or, if you only show the funders the disaggregated data, they’ll miss the big-picture patterns.
Remember that Data Visualization Isn’t Supposed to be Hard
You can use everyday software, like Excel. Just tweak the default settings to make the graphs easier to understand.
You don’t have to learn coding or programming, unless you want to.
You don’t need to go to school for graphic design, unless you want to.
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