Qualitative Visualization: Chart choosing and the design process

Mar 29, 2018 by Jennifer Lyons Comments (0)

In order for data to be used for learning and adapting, the data itself needs to be easily accessible. Evaluators and researchers have been hungry for resources on how to effectively present qualitative data, so last year Evergreen Data launched a qualitative reporting series. And, we recently released an updated qualitative chart chooser. In this post, I’ll explain how to use this tool and share examples of how it can be used.

Chart Chooser 3.0

We built this tool to be relevant for all levels of qualitative data use. Whether you only collect qualitative data as an open-ended question attached to your quantitative survey, or you are doing full-blown qualitative research, this handout will hopefully provide you with some new visualization ideas. Along the top of the table, you have the option to quantify your qualitative data in the visual. In some cases, quantification can break down a bunch of qualitative findings into a simple yet effective visual like a heat map. On the other hand, when you quantify the data, you risk losing context and the personal nature of qualitative data.

Next on the chart chooser, it is broken down by what you want to include in your visual-just highlight a word/phrase or include a higher level of analysis. Along the left-hand side of the chooser, you can see another breakdown depending on the nature of your data; like whether it represents flow, comparison, hierarchy, etc. Last, all the chart and visuals (along with cute little illustrations) are suggested as options. You know your audience, your data, and your story, so use this chart chooser to pick the best visual to fit your context.

The design process:

Let’s put this chart chooser to use! Let’s say that you are working with the homelessness service community in your area. Using a mixed methods approach, you have collected data on the homelessness system including the causes and the continuum of services available in your community. You are writing a 10-page report on the findings, but you want to summarize the causes and continuum of services available in your area. You are not looking to quantify the data because you want to give specific program examples. After taking time to look at the chart chooser, you decide that there is a flow to the nature of your data, so using a flow diagram will be the best fit.

Road Map 1

Producing quality data visuals is not just about choosing the right chart, you need to layer the right chart with quality design technique. Let’s look at how a flow diagram would look without putting much effort into crafting a design that tells a story. This (right) took me about 5 minutes using PowerPoint smart art.

The problem is this visual doesn’t tell a compelling story about the journey of homelessness and the services offered at each point in the continuum. Let’s reframe this visual to better showcase the journey.

This (right) is getting better! I can start to see the story develop. This still needs some love like the intentional use of color, an effective title, and a more personalized touch.

Images of people and quotes are taken from a CBS News report (https://www.cbsnews.com/pictures/before-and-after-from-homeless-to-hopeful/) on the 100,000 Homes Campaign.

This (above) is starting to look like something to be proud of! It is a piece that can be shared separate from the 10-page report and it summarizes your community’s journey of homelessness. This was all made in PowerPoint using textboxes, lines, photos, and square shapes.

I can imagine that the references to the different programs could have embedded bookmark links to the section in the report where they describe and talk more about that program. If this were to be posted online, the programs could link to websites providing more information and resources on each of the programs. Pushing the idea of using color intentionally even further, color used in this diagram should be threaded throughout the entire report. This is one of my favorite techniques! It helps chunk up a long, mixed methods report into bite-sized pieces that the brain can better interpret.

To keep up-to-date on more qualitative reporting ideas, follow our qualitative blog thread.  For any questions or comments, you can reach me at jennifer@stephanieevergreen.com.