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Goodbye Microsoft Defaults, Hello Data Viz Toolkit!

Updated on: Apr 14th, 2020
Data Visualization in Excel
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Graphic for guest blog post by Goodbye Microsoft Defaults, Hello Data Viz Toolkit! including her headshot.

Hi there! My name is Courtney Sims and I have the privilege of being a monitoring and evaluation Associate for Sharp Insight, LLC based in the Washington, D.C. region.

About Sharp Insight

At Sharp Insight, we support our clients wherever they are on their program evaluation path, often creating reports and presentations for funders and other key stakeholders.

The majority of my clients are youth-serving nonprofit organizations, including those that run out-of-school time programs and adolescent sexual and reproductive health initiatives. I find joy in being able to produce data visualizations that tell their own story, with one of my proud moments being when a client shared, “I just love this, it’s like it reads itself to me.” 

Producing Reports that “Write Themselves”

Of course, we all know that reports with easy-to-read visualizations and clear messaging don’t just “write themselves!” 

Our team works hard to produce meaningful deliverables with charts and graphs that honor best practices in data visualization. 

However, creating effective visuals is just one part of our jobs.  We have to balance our time in chart development with not only report writing but other key tasks including research, tool development, data analyses, site visits, and workshops. 

This led us to wonder, how can we work smarter by streamlining our internal data visualization development processes?

Developing a Data Visualization Toolkit with Examples and Templates

As a team, we knew we needed a go-to resource that would guide each of us in developing powerful visuals without (re-)creating them from scratch each time.  We also knew we needed someone to “own” this project for our team – me!  

And so, in October of 2018, I enrolled in Depict Data Studio’s Great Graphs online course, and what a meaningful, practical professional development opportunity it has been!  

Over the course of months and inspired by Depict Data Studio’s Chart Chooser, I was able to gain the skills needed to develop a comprehensive data visualization toolkit for our team, with:

  • visualizations to show big numbers,
  • approach toward a target,
  • change over time, and even
  • qualitative data visual examples and standards.   

Building on our existing visuals, I worked to generate these templates in our company branded colors, easily adapted to client colors with our handy saved color-palettes.

The Impact of Developing a Data Visualization Toolkit

Across our team, we’ve developed even more. 

Thanks to Great Graphs, gone are the days of each of us taking the time to adjust Microsoft’s default formats by removing vertical and horizontal bars, shrinking gap widths, increasing data label font sizes and alignment, and the list goes on and on.

Our new data visualization toolkit allows us to maximize our ability to exceed our clients’ expectations for visual-heavy reports while still giving us the time and energy to fulfill our numerous other tasks associated with being productive, responsible evaluators.  And for that, we are genuinely grateful!

More about Courtney Sims
Courtney Sims is a Senior Evaluation & Communication Associate at Sharp Insight, LLC with an eye for detail and a depth of communication, reporting, and capacity building experience. As a public health professional, her work has been influenced by a strong commitment to social justice and reducing health disparities. Courtney has worked in the non-profit and research sectors and appreciates the ability to combine these experiences into meaningful communication and evaluation materials. Her Sharp Insight portfolio includes a wide range of client work including evaluation capacity building for nonprofit leaders, multi-year program monitoring and evaluation, and data visualization and effective reporting. In addition to technical writing and data visualization, she plays a leading role in strategic communication efforts. She also teaches complex evaluation concepts as a facilitator for Sharp Insight’s training workshops. Courtney is fluent in Spanish and continues to be deeply impacted by her experience living and working in Honduras. Courtney holds a Master of Public Health and Bachelor of Science in Global Community Health from George Mason University, where she served as an adjunct faculty member teaching courses in health behavior theory and career readiness for entry-level public health professionals.

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