How many times have you written a report and heard the client respond – This is amazing! I know exactly how to use this information! We changed our processes or policies because of the findings in the report!

This is an evaluator’s dream.

Yet, too often we hide our findings in dense text-based reports. Our clients have to sift through pages upon pages of narrative to find the gems. This is all while they navigate competing demands for their attention and time. Odds are that your report becomes just another thing on their ever growing to-do list.

There’s a better way!

This week, Ann K Emery and I presented at the 2021 Eastern Evaluation Research Society Conference (#EERS21) on “How to Design Reports that Actually Inform Decisions (with Software We Already Have.”

We had over 80 attendees join us for this conversation. That was over half the conference! Clearly we all want to create better reports.

Collectively, we groaned about the times when our reports didn’t land how we had hoped. For example, have you ever heard the following after sending in your report?

  • No response.
  • Can you put the findings into an email?
  • Do you have a one-pager or summary document?
  • I am not going to read this.
  • Can you share the high-level findings?

Ouch! We’ve all been there.

We also celebrated successes from the times that our reports and findings were used to enact real change. Things like:

  • Including the data in a successful grant application
  • Forming a committee to address the recommendations
  • Developing lessons learned reports to share with partners
  • Saving funding for a program
  • Changing the process or policies

And my favorite success shared by an attendee: “Someone hung my visual in their cubicle to guide future grantmaking.” Way to go!

We want more of that. More utilization, more innovation, more change. 

So how do we get there?

During the presentation, Ann and I talked about and highlighted real examples from our own work for how to create more engaging reports. Key takeaways included:

  • Create visual appendices (say yes to heat tables, trend lines, data bars)
  • Design complementary one and three-page summaries to go along with the longer report
  • Develop engaging report covers and color-coded section dividers using full fill photos
  • Incorporate a variety of charts and visual types (you can go beyond the bar chart – have you tried adding a timeline or icons?)
  • Adopt inclusive and non-violent language

Conference attendees recognized that there’s a better way and are already taking steps to improve their reports!

Tweets sharing praise for the conference session

What about you?

What are your favorite tips for creating engaging and informative reports?