The DataViz Extravaganza, Part 2

Visualizations Don’t Equal Truth

This week’s Story By Numbers podcast is so awesome, Ruth and I split it into two parts. This post includes Part 2. Listen to Part 1 here: The DataViz Extravaganza, Part 1.

For this episode of Story By Numbers, we are honored to have Johanna Morariu and Ann Emery of Innovation Network as our guests. We had a wonderful discussion about Data Visualization – DataViz for you cool kids.

This is a huge topic, and it can be intimidating if you’re unfamiliar with the language, but Johanna and Ann reframed the issues in user friendly terms. Some of the major topics covered in Part 2 include:

  1. Lousy data infect good data. Johanna and Ann recommend collect less data (the biggest surprise to me!) and focusing on quality over quantity. They also believe that simple software like Microsoft Excel is best for most small nonprofits. If you really want to dig into software, however, Innovation Network has a great resource: Software for Nonprofit Evaluation and Case Management.
  2. Fit your graphics to the audience and purpose. You may need to compromise on the most “correct” way of displaying data to make it accessible to your target audience. Don’t forget no/low tech options such as having audience members color in bar charts or creating a social network map with markers and string.
  3. A really great viz isn’t great if no one uses it.
  4. Visualizations do not = truth!!! An important point. It is very possible to manipulate data visualizations. As designers, we need to be careful to present information in an unbiased manner that does not lead the audience to unwarranted conclusions.
  5. Embrace and use workaday vizualizations. If you’re just presenting to staff at a planning session, you can save yourself a lot of time and money by using a draft version of a chart. Save the most polished work for broader audiences and marketing.

For more detail on these points, check out Johanna’s presentation from the Nonprofit Technology Conference, Picturing Your Data Is Better Than 1,000 Numbers.

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