Picking a Data Presentation Technique

As a licensed data therapist, I often advise patients to have a clear process to achieve their desired outcomes.  Having a process helps you measure your progress, and gets you started. I haven’t found many tutorials about what to do when you sit down at your desk to tell a story with your data. What do you do when the rubber hits the road?  Here’s my suggestion.

Find Your Data

Most community groups I work with already have their data in front of them… they’re just trying to figure out how to tell their story with it.  However, it is often the case that when I ask a few more questions, it turns out there is more data lying around.  I hear things like “oh yeah, Sally took some pictures there”, or “yes, we have the same info for last year”.  Make sure you think hard about what data you’ve got.  Don’t overlook something right under your nose.

Characterize Your Data

You should really understand the data you’ve got.  Make a list of words that describe it – chronological, geo-located, sequential, survey, quotes, tabular, interview, etc.  It is helpful to label it as qualitative or quantitative.  To over-simplify, qualitative data is things like quotes or pictures, and quantitative data is numbers.  Most of us have been taught to think that numbers where it’s at, but never forget the power of compelling pictures and quotes.

Identify Goals and Audiences

Force yourself to write down goals and audiences early on. Do it. Tape it to your monitor. Your goals and audiences should guide all your data presentation decisions.  Goals could include getting funding, changing policy, changing social norms, growing organization membership, internal reflection, program assessment.  Audiences could include funders, volunteers, the general public, policy makers, donors, yourself.  Remember that sometimes you have more than one audience in the room – think about their differing expectations and backgrounds.

Pick a Technique

There are lots of creative ways to present data.  I’ve recently been categorizing them into seven groups.  This isn’t meant to be an authoritative list, but rather to help talk about the vast array of options available.

  • personalize your data with stories
  • bring your data in the real world
  • map your data
  • chart your data traditionally
  • chart your data creatively
  • make your data interactive

Each of these techniques fits certain goals and audiences better than others.  I’ll delve into each of these in separate posts.

Make It

Once you know all of the above, use some tools you know, or learn some new ones, and make something!  Simple, right?  My goal is to have this blog help you build things, but I think it is important to have a process to scaffold the creative process.  Now you have something to do when you sit down at your desk!

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