This week I was featured on Dana Wanzer’s EvaluLand podcast, where we talked about independent consulting, capacity building, and reporting. 

One of things we discussed was reporting successes and failures. We all have them. You can hear about a few of mine on the podcast. Here are a few hints…Success: New legislation was signed by the Governor to better protect the health and safety of children! But on the flip side…cringe: I’m pretty sure another one of my reports was thrown in a drawer never to be seen again. Talk about the spooky scaries of evaluation.

So how can we ensure that we are having more reporting successes than failures? As a starting place, you can check out my previous post on how to design reports that actually inform decisions. 

Below are 3 additional tips to move from confusion to clarity with your reports. I’ve written this from the perspective of a consultant. If you’re an organization seeking or currently working with a consultant, you can explore asking for and trying these options too.

Discuss reporting during the contracting process

Usually a contract includes a scope of work with a description of the deliverables that will be developed throughout the course of a project. The contract often specifies when the deliverables will be completed and in what format. For example, you might develop quarterly and year-end reports, a series of one pagers, and/or a PowerPoint presentation.

Consider taking the scope of work one step further and outlining the types of conclusions that could be made or the story you can tell based on the type(s) of data available.

For example, will you:

  • Analyze change over time?
  • Compare groups by disaggregating the data? And at what level?
  • Present data as numbers/percentages or run statistical comparisons?
  • Use public data? If so, what are the underlying assumptions and limitations?

This step sounds simple but can often be overlooked. When it is, it is easy to skip over unspoken assumptions and expectations that could become a challenge later.

Present a series of options for discussion

A big part of reporting is telling a clear, concise, and coherent story. To do that, we combine visuals like pictures, icons, and charts to support the text. But if we use visuals that don’t resonate with our readers, our reports are going to flop.

To avoid this potential for failure, try presenting a few different chart or visual types for the same data to see what resonates. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel overnight. Sometimes success means moving one step forward at a time.

  • Used to text-heavy reports? Try adding some color and icons.
  • Always use bar charts? Test out a dot plot.
  • Lots of spaghetti line charts? Explore small multiples.
Report early and often

Ok I know, you might be thinking, sure that’s great but we don’t have the budget or timeline for extra reporting. I get it. This might not work in every situation. Let’s think of it as an aspiration.

What is evaluation all about? Information gathering and learning. So why wait an entire year or (gasp!) even longer to develop an evaluation report? 

Learning happens incrementally and our reporting should reflect that. You didn’t learn to read overnight. You learned to read by putting together smaller pieces of the puzzle: first letters and sounds, then words, phrases, and sentences.

Our reports can use a similar approach. Here are a few suggestions for how to engage with data on a more regular basis:

  • Share one piece of data at every team meeting for the group to discuss.
  • Include a data highlight in your organization’s newsletter.
  • Create a monthly one pager or dashboard with updates.
  • Having data as a standing agenda item at your quarterly board meetings.

How are you engaging others in the reporting process to move from spooky to success?