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It’s all too easy for our evaluation reports to become a lifeless pile of numbers that gather dust on a shelf. As evaluators and PIs, we want to tell our stories and we want those stories to be heard. Data visualizations (like graphs and infographics) can be powerful ways to share evaluation findings, quickly communicate key themes, and ultimately have more impact.

Communicating evaluation findings visually can also help your stakeholders became better data analysts themselves. I’ve found that when stakeholders see a graph showing survey results, they are much more likely to spend time examining the findings, asking questions, and thinking about what the results might mean for the project than if the same information is presented in a traditional table of numbers.

Here are a few tips to get you started with data visualization:

  • Start with the data story. Pick one key finding that you want to communicate to a specific group of stakeholders. What is the key message you want those stakeholders to walk away with?
  • Put the mouse down! When you’re ready to develop a data viz, start by sketching various ways of showing the story you want to tell on a piece of paper.
  • Use Stephanie Evergreen’s and Ann Emery’s checklist to help you plan and critique your data visualization: http://stephanieevergreen.com/dataviz-checklist/.
  • Once you’ve drafted your data viz, run it by one or two colleagues to get their feedback.
    Some PIs, funders, and other stakeholders still want to see tables with all the numbers. We typically include tables with the complete survey results in an appendix.

Some of my favorite data viz resources:

For more design inspiration, check out:

Finally, don’t expect to hit a home run your first time at bat. (I certainly didn’t!) You will get better as you become more familiar with the software you use to produce your data visualizations and as you solicit and receive feedback from your audience. Keep showing those stories!

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About the Authors

Ginger Fitzhugh

Ginger Fitzhugh box with arrow

Senior Research Associate, Education Development Center

Ginger Fitzhugh is a Senior Research Associate at Education Development Center. She has over a decade of experience in conducting evaluations that help programs leverage knowledge to achieve better outcomes for young people. She currently leads a number of NSF-supported evaluations of programs aimed at increasing the diversity of the STEM workforce. She is also an active member of the American Evaluation Association. gfitzhugh@edc.org

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