Let's assume that you are collecting and analyzing data about your program -- what next? I argue that you must put in as much effort in communicating data as you did in collecting it.
Before making choices about how to package your data, think about:
- What data do you have?
- Who is the target audience for the data?
- What do you want your target audience to know?
In the fall 2011 issue of New Directions for Evaluation, Stephanie Evergreen makes a case for thinking like a graphic designer when communicating data. She states, "Evaluators have a responsibility to make their work as clear and accessible as possible, both to enhance the evaluation's credibility and to encourage the use of evaluation in program change." I agree with her but also think youth workers who do evaluation carry this same responsibility.
Evergreen says that we have a bad habit of making our communication of data boring: "The disconnect lies between our desire to have our findings used and our methods of presenting them." Are you boring your audience with data?
In youth work we have the tendency to be so pleased that we've conducted evaluations that we neglect to think about use and communication. What good are the data if we can't communicate them in a compelling manner? How can we best create communications with users in mind?
Here are some ways to create more compelling communications of data. Compare them with what you do:
- Jot down the key messages from your evaluation. Build your presentation around these. Think about how you can make these 2-3 ideas stick.
- Ask youth to help. Chances are they will be able to help you get your creative juices flowing. Plus the act of engaging others in discussing your communication methods has to help you break out of your presentation rut.
- For an oral presentation, follow the 10-minute rule: if you can't get your point across in 10 minutes, restructure what you're talking about, otherwise your audience will be snoozing.
- Think about creating two evaluation reports -- one with more depth for stakeholders who want the details and another short, 1-2 page summary that can be shared widely.
Have you found interesting, engaging ways to share evaluation data? What difference has it made?
--Samantha Grant, assistant Extension professor, program evaluation