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I have a few confessions.

(aside from that I’ve neglected this blog and feel a bit rusty).

  1. I love pretty data visualizations, but at times have felt ill equipped to create what just what I want.
  2. I feel overwhelmed by some of the nifty new data visualizations appearing these days.
  3. I don’t always know what the story is that I’m trying to tell in evaluation reports, and what elements to enhance via data visualizations in those reports.
  4. I sometimes feel like there’s no end to the things I need to learn to stay on top of evaluation practice (fortunately I like to learn!).
  5. I am now a Stephanie Evergreen groupie.

Stephanie graced the Oregon Program Evaluators Network with a 2 hour presentation and 3 hour workshop late last week and I will never look at a default excel chart the same way again. Nor a power point presentation or evaluation report. This could make looking at the bulk of work out there in the world kinda tricky. The material I learned doesn’t address every element of my confessions… but it feels like a big step in the right direction.

Stephanie shared material from Presenting Data Effectively, her book that is due out next week. Some of my favorite ‘takeaways’, in no particular order (though that first one is pretty good):

  • Simplify and emphasize. In that order. Plan to show something as simple as possible, take away the chart junk, and emphasize the ‘point’ you’re trying to convey. (And from an attendee friend – if there doesn’t seem to be something to emphasize, maybe it’s not worth including, or visualizing…).
  • Just because it’s new and seems fancy, doesn’t mean it should be used. Radial charts, gauges, and charts that rely on area and curvature (like this) are not interpretable. Sticking to simpler charts that can be used to show the same information (think simple bar/column charts and the like) will help stakeholders actually interpret and use data.
  • This chart. How cool is this? A seemingly straightforward approach, but requiring some significant ‘ninja’ skills in excel. The result — a  waaaaayyyy better way to present Likert item results than just a plain old bar or column chart, and eons better than the pie charts I’ve been known to employ in my not-so-distant past.
  • This chart. Also awesome. Super duper awesome. That is all.
  • Those nifty visuals that show a stacks of people or objects with part of the ‘whole’ stack colored in are called icon arrays.
  • Do ‘normal wear and tear’ tests with reports — print copies in black and white, copy and fax them, see what happens to your charts, then fix them to ensure they’ll be legible for all.
  • People have a limited ability to pay attention, and can only contain so many (3 – 5) things in working memory at a time. Too many words on slides, or complicated charts, or visuals that don’t engage readers quickly, will prevent stakeholders from being able to pay the attention to results. (I suppose I may have already broken with good practice by making this list too long – but I couldn’t help it!)

Oh there’s so much more. And most of it is on Stephanie’s blog. And/or will be in her upcoming book. And she’s not the only expert out there working on this either — I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Tufte‘s work, and Stephen Few‘s, at minimum. Check them out for more, if you feel a ‘geek out’ coming on.

The bottom line for me? I’ve said it before (and here and here) and I’m this [ ] much closer to actually being able to practice what I preach. If stakeholders don’t read, review, and understand evaluation results, there’s no way those results will be used to make actual improvements. So good data visualization practices, whether in writing or presentation form, are crucial. So why don’t you join me in trying to absorb all the good stuff Stephanie has to share? And together we can all modernize evaluation reporting and presentation practices and make our results more actionable.

In the works — a before-and-after post demonstrating the power of making use of some of these lessons.

Posted in data visualization

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  1. Sheila B Robinson, Ed. D

    Like, like LIKE!!! I’m with you on all points, especially your confessions. I have been following Stephanie’s blog and had the opportunity to take a full day course with her last June. WOW! So much to learn, and all of it exciting and fun. And she’s a great presenter as well. I also love Ann Emery’s blog and Excel for Evaluators tutorials at She does a fabulous job with data visualization with charts and graphs as well. I assembled my learning on data visualization/information design/presentations in a couple of slideshows on You can search for my name, or try this link, if you’re interested: 🙂

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