Data Design for the Manager’s Mind

When I completed my MPH more than five years ago, our M&E coursework focused primarily on thinking like academics rather than managers.

In our M&E classes, we were trained to label charts and graphs with nondescript titles spelling out the indicator, population, and period represented in our data. The default muted green, red, purple, and blue palette of Microsoft Excel was everywhere. And our evaluation training focused on log frames, methods, analysis, and journal publications, with limited time invested in creative dissemination strategies.

The global health evaluation landscape looks markedly different today.

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Evaluators (and program managers, officers, and analysts) often lead the design of reports and presentations to communicate program learning. Sometimes we have the support of great communications and publications teams, but often with rapid turnaround expectations and tight budgets, we do the best we can without the added value of a professional designer.

We are lucky to have more resources and data visualization inspiration around us than ever before, pushing us to think more purposefully about how we design graphs, charts, and other outputs.

Hans Rosling, a professor of global health, has had more than 7 million views of his 2010 video on health and wealth. He shows how bubble charts, animated to show change over time, can “show [the data] in ways people both enjoy and understand.”

Other thought leaders in data visualization design, like Cole Naussbaumer, David McCandless, Alberto Cairo, Stephanie Evergreen, Jon Schwabish, and Ann K. Emery, share ideas and resources on the web, making learning about data visualization more accessible than ever before. Online learning portals, like the Global Health eLearning Center and Tech Change, make basic design training available at low or no cost. Communities, like HelpMeViz and the Data Viz Hub for Development, create spaces for collaboration and sharing ideas.

The volume of resources can be overwhelming though, with data viz novices not knowing where to start.

In an effort to share some of the best resources and improve the design of information products we develop, the JSI Center for Health Information, Monitoring & Evaluation created an internal JSI interest group on data viz, hosts monthly designstorms (see example deck below), brings in external speakers, and identifies and shares resources and tools with our staff.

Our aim? To help staff think about how decision makers—from program managers to policymakers—can use the learning coming out of our projects, and give our teams the tools to present the data embedded in that learning in compelling ways.

Learn more about how JSI is building organizational capacity in data visualization design at our poster at the American Evaluation Association’s 2015 Evaluation Conference.