I met Audrey Loper in 2017 while teaching a data visualization workshop to her grantees. Her data visualization progress after that workshop has been phenomenal. Keep up the good work, Audrey!
A few years ago, I found myself in a frustrating predicament. I was writing dozens of evaluation reports for my grantees. Next to none of them were being read. I scheduled webinars, conference calls and face-to-face meetings to talk through the results. Each time, it was more or less the same: I was verbally summarizing a report no one had read. I assumed folks were too busy, or that they didn’t really care that much about the results. Then I went to one of Ann’s data visualization workshops and had a heart-to-heart with myself. The problem wasn’t my grantees busy schedules or lack of interest in outcomes – it was the report.
Before: Six Pages of Boring Text and Yawn-Worthy Tables and Graphs
I was sending my sites six pages of mind-numbingly boring text, accompanied by a few yawn-worthy tables and graphs:
I was making my readers work way too hard. Instead of reporting agency outcomes front and center on page one, I was expecting folks to wade through six pages to find them, each on a separate page. Instead of titling my table and figures in a way that drew attention to the take-home message, I was using titles like ‘Figure 1. Percent of Respondents Who Correctly Answered Questions on Sexual Knowledge.’ Instead of using color for emphasis, I was using color with the enthusiasm of a toddler. It was time for a reboot.
After: A Two-Pager with Intentional Data Design
I started out by talking to my grantees. I wanted to make sure that this time around, they got something they would actually read. And hopefully use. My sites told me that my suspicions about what was wrong with the reports were absolutely right. I wasn’t making it easy for them to find what they needed, and for the few who actually read the report, they were having to repackage what I sent them to share with their stakeholders.
Based on Ann’s data viz best practices and the feedback from the grantees, I made myself the following to do list:
- Don’t bury the lead. Start off with the important stuff, then follow with details.
- Limit yourself to one page (front and back).
- No blocks of narrative text!
- Use color for emphasis.
Here’s what I came up with:
On page one, after the title, I listed all three outcome objectives, the target and actual values, and add a check mark to clearly identify which had been met. The green in the title matches the green in the arrow. The dumbbell plots that follow clearly show pretest and posttest values for each objective if folks want to dig deeper.
Page two is reserved for data about program implementation and demographics. (In my previous report, these hogged all the space on page one.) I designed a snazzy new graphic to depict whether or not the grantee met the target number of youth at the correct dosage level. For the demographics, I created side-by-side bar charts so readers could more easily compare the age, gender and race/ethnicity of the two groups.
It’s not perfect, but it’s better. Much better. I pilot tested the changes with a few sites (the lucky few who actually read the six page report), got their feedback, and made a few more tweaks. The response was overwhelmingly positive: Grantees could easily find their results, make sense of them, and communicate them with their stakeholders. What more could a girl ask for?
I love this before and after! Thanks for the great tips, Audrey, I like your ‘to-do list’ especially #1 starting with the important stuff first. I am going to keep this in mind for my data viz projects. I also found in the ‘after’ two-pager that the headings you included before each visualization were really helpful — you provided a concise interpretation of the data so I could quickly and easily understand what the main point is.
Hi Mia! I’ll pass on your compliments to Audrey. I have a feeling that your before/after dashboard makeover is going to be really well-received, too! I can’t wait to publish your makeover in a few more weeks.
It looks very good. What software were you using?
I personally use Microsoft products (Excel, Word, and PowerPoint) for the vast majority of my projects. I use Tableau here and there for interactive dashboards and I use Carto here and there for geographic maps.
In this blog post from Audrey Loper, I believe she’s just using good ol’ Microsoft Word. The “before” version is definitely Microsoft Word and the “after” version is probably Word, too.
In a few weeks, I’m publishing another guest blog post from Nick Visscher. His article is about writing reports inside of Microsoft PowerPoint (!) instead of Word. He’ll share some tips for getting started, and his post contains images of his PowerPoint “slides” so that you can get ideas for thinking outside the box with common software that you already own. Check back again for even more tips and ideas.
Thank you! I never would’ve thought to look at the report from the customer’s perspective like this. I’m very ‘report’ oriented, so I would definitely tend to overwhelm an audience. This post was a good read and it visually helped to drive the point home to simplify. So I’ve pinned you. 🙂
Thank you! I’ll pass on your compliments to Audrey.
One of my favorite parts of this makeover is that Audrey actively sought feedback from her “customers,” the organizations who were running the teen pregnancy prevention programs and were going to be reading the report. She listened to them at multiple times in the report revision process. I wish everyone would do this. Our reports would be so much more useful.
Very helpfull ! Thanks
You’re welcome, Traore.
I don’t think the lack of involved readership is all about YOU, but it’s a good change to make for the sake of utilization. I am really impressed with your “before” and “after” formats. The changes really improved readability and potential to use your results. Please keep up the great work.
I’ll pass on your compliment to Audrey. Thanks!
Really enjoyed this post and think Audrey is a superstar. Thanks for sharing, Ann.
This is awesome! I am in the middle of yet another report and wishing I had a template for this already! Next time- thanks to you!
Hi William, Please reach out when you’re finished and let me know how your reporting process went. I’m always trying to learn new tricks. Good luck!
[…] – Audry Loper shows how she changed boring 6-page reports into informative 2-page reports. Her tips are useful for Excel dashboards too. And if you want to make those dumbbell charts, Mynda […]
This is very helpful, i usually use alot of information in my report, this is dorect to the point and easy to understood
Thanks Debra ! for sharing about this wesite on Ann´s course!