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How to use creative reporting formats for evaluation

If you’ve gone through the effort of planning an evaluation, collecting your data and analysing it, you will want to make sure your findings are used. You could use them to improve your work, communicate to funders and donors or engage external audiences.

Communicating your findings in a way that will encourage people to read them and take action is crucial.

1

Think about your audience

Think about the people you are reporting to so you can tell them what they need to know. You should consider:

  • what kind of information they need (eg whether they need to know more about the difference you’ve made or the way in which you’ve delivered your work)
  • how they engage with information: levels of digital literacy, whether they prefer face-to-face communication, whether they prefer text or visuals
  • why they need the information and what you want them to do as a result
  • whether there are any accessibility needs that you need to consider (eg visual or hearing impairments).
2

Choose a report format

Next, decide on a format that will meet your audience’s needs. You could use:

  • a visual format
  • a spoken format
  • a written format.

Visual formats include infographics, illustrations and photographs, which are good for communicating a lot of information in a small space. Some visual formats can also be included in written reports, summaries, blogs or presentations. Read section 3 for more.

Spoken formats such as presentations, podcasts and videos can be highly engaging and interactive ways to communicate your findings. They can also provide opportunities to hear the voice of your beneficiaries or evaluation participants. Read section 4 for more.

Written formats include shorter or more action-oriented formats of the traditional evaluation reportRead section 5 for more.

3

Use a visual format

Infographics

Infographics are increasingly popular ways to communicate information visually. They usually contain headline figures, charts, brief explanations and simple illustrations to help the viewer understand the data.

Infographics can be easily shared online, which makes them very powerful for communicating to external audiences. As they generally only contain key facts and figures, they are less helpful for audiences that need to know how to use the data to improve.

Here are some examples of infographics being used to communicate key findings from Depaul UK and Streetwise Opera.

Tips for infographics

  • Try a simple online tool such as Canva or Piktochart. Both are free initially, although you have to pay for premium features.
  • It’s very easy to mislead using infographics. Be careful to communicate your data clearly and transparently.

There is more detailed guidance on how to turn evaluation findings into infographics at the American Evaluation Society website.

Illustrations and cartoons

Illustrations include icons, words and numbers alongside pictures. They can be static or animated, and may be used alongside written formats or on their own to communicate key messages. Like infographics, illustrations can be widely shared. They may also contain a bit more detail and nuance.

Cartoons can add humour to an evaluation report. They can illustrate salient points or be used to reinforce recommendations.

RSA Animate has some good examples of animated illustrations used to visualise the content of lectures. Chris Lysy has produced some brilliant – and genuinely funny – evaluation cartoons.

Tips for illustrations and cartoons

  • Unlike infographics, illustrations are usually hand-drawn and need some skill – do you work with someone who will do justice to your evaluation findings? Or do you need to outsource?
  • They say a picture tells a thousand words, but you might still need the words to explain the picture, especially if you use cultural references that might not be accessible to everyone.
  • Not everyone will find these reporting methods credible – choose your audience carefully.
  • Consider using illustrations drawn by your evaluation participants, with their consent – here’s one from a project in India.

Data dashboards

A dashboard is an interactive visual format which updates automatically as the data updates. Dashboards are useful for presenting dynamic, real-time data. They’re great for decision makers who want to see what’s on track and what isn’t, as well as for staff working on projects. They’re not so helpful for understanding why something is working or not working – you’ll need other ways to present this kind of data.

You may need specific software to produce dashboards. Some databases, such as Salesforce, have a built-in dashboard that you can customise.

Citizens Advice Bureau have a real-time dashboard, highlighting the need for their online advice service.

Tips for dashboards

  • Dashboards take time and resources to keep up to date. Make sure that having one will help you make better decisions before you invest.
  • Consult with the people who will be using the dashboard to make sure that it meets their needs.
  • Keep it concise. Resist the temptation to overcomplicate as this may confuse your users.

Technology Salon have more information: 13 tips for charities wanting to use a data dashboard.

Posters

Posters are often used to present research at conferences, but are also helpful for communicating evaluation findings. Key quotations or headline statistics can be put up for staff or beneficiaries to notice and reflect on.

Tips for posters

  • Posters can be produced quickly and with limited resources, although you may want to invest in professional printing for larger posters.
  • Ideally, posters can be ‘read’ within 30 seconds – so keep text simple and brief.
  • Eventually posters become part of the furniture and people stop noticing them, so it can be helpful to change them periodically.

The American researcher Stephanie Evergreen has more tips for posters. You may also find inspiration in these winning posters from the American Evaluation Association conference.

Photographs

A few well-chosen photographs can help to illustrate the human stories behind the numbers in your evaluation report or presentation and make your report more memorable.

If you have access to a lot of photographs, you could consider having an exhibition to communicate your evaluation findings to a wider audience.

Tips for photographs

  • Remember to get consent from participants when using photographs they have taken or that feature them.
  • Think about how you are representing your participants and whether you might be unintentionally contributing to stereotypes or marginalisation. Evaluator Stephanie Evergreen discusses some of the risks.

Think about your captions and how you refer to the photograph in text.

4

Use a spoken format

Presentations

A good presentation brings data to life. You might discuss your findings with your presentation audience, encouraging them to think about the implications for their own work.

One engaging presentation format is Ignite, in which presenters have 20 slides that advance every 15 seconds, for a five-minute presentation. For an example, have a look at Chris Lysy’s presentation on why evaluators should blog.

Tips for presentations

  • A presentation doesn’t have to mean PowerPoint or Prezi slides. You can use videos, flip charts and posters too.
  • Think about how much you want to interact with your audience and what questions you want to ask them, as well as what they might want to ask of you.
  • Video or audio-record your presentation to play over your slides so people who were not present can watch.
  • You can do presentations via a webinar to reach larger or more geographically distant audiences.

Data visualisation expert Ann K Emery has a blog with tips for using data visualisation in presentations.

Podcasts

You can record a podcast of your key findings for people to download and listen to in their own time. Podcasts are very popular ways to communicate detailed information. Bear in mind that they can be resource intensive to produce well.

Tips for podcasts

  • Try having multiple voices in your podcast to keep interest. A Q&A format can be useful.
  • Use a fairly loose script so it sounds natural rather than over-rehearsed.
  • Remember to remain impartial. There may be a temptation to stay upbeat and to under-report negative findings.
  • It can be helpful to open your podcast with an engaging case study.
  • There are free apps for recording, but make time to test out the sound quality beforehand and to edit the podcast afterwards.

Videos

Videos can be as simple as an audio recording over slides, or can include filmed clips from your evaluation participants and your activities. Participants could record their own video for you to use in a final edited version. You could also use illustrations or cartoons in your videos (as in the RSA Animate videos).

Videos work really well for public engagement and communicating your findings to a wider audience, including beneficiaries (if they access the internet). Videos are an emotionally engaging way to communicate, and tend to focus on stories more than numbers.

Tips for videos

  • As with podcasts, remember to allow time for practising, recording and editing, and make sure you stay impartial.
  • You can embed shorter videos into presentations or online written reports. If you do, remember that the video may be watched out of context.

Music, spoken word or even interpretive dance

These formats may work particularly well for communicating to some external audiences or for livening up meetings. They are better for communicating stories than numbers.

Interpretive dance takes a bit of courage but there is the potential for it to reach audiences that would otherwise not be interested in your work. For inspiration, have a look at previous winners of Dance Your PhD on YouTube.

Spoken word or performance poetry is often used for persuasion, to illuminate a personal story or to make a political argument. You could have spoken word case studies as part of a presentation or video. For inspiration, have a look at the CEO of Evaluation Support Scotland’s poem about barriers to evaluation.

5

Use a written format

Summary reports

Most reports have an executive summary that you can read on its own. Summaries include key findings and recommendations. They are usually very short (fewer than five pages) and may include visual aids such as charts.

Summary reports are good for audiences that don’t need all the detail, for example busy senior managers or trustees. They can also be useful for external audiences.

Tips for summary reports

  • Tailor it to your audience – an executive summary is usually written for decision-makers, but you may want different summaries for other audiences such as volunteers.
  • Write it as a stand-alone document that can be read by people who haven’t read the main report.
  • Provide links to the detail so people can delve deeper if they want to.

Blogs or newsletters

Blogs and newsletters provide an opportunity for a more personal style of communication than a summary report. They can highlight and summarise key findings or recommendations, or talk about what you learned about the process of carrying out an evaluation. They can be written for internal or external audiences.

Tips for blogs

  • Blogs usually focus on a particular angle, rather than trying to summarise all your findings.
  • Blogs have a short shelf life – they are contemporary or topical but aren’t usually kept for a long period.
  • Try using social media or email to promote your blog.
  • You could use a ‘top five’ format to communicate the most important findings or recommendations.

Postcards

Use postcards to communicate key findings, or to invite people to events to comment on the findings. Postcards are a great way of summarising headline findings in an accessible way and getting your message out to many stakeholders at once, but can be costly to print and distribute. They may also be useful for communicating with beneficiaries and volunteers, especially if they are less familiar with digital formats.

Tips for postcards

  • Postcards can be text-only or simplified infographics.
  • You can distribute postcards in many ways, from posting them out to service users, to having a stack for people to collect, to handing them out at conferences and events.

Easy Read formats

Easy Read formats are for people who find reading difficult.  They use plain English and short sentences. They also include pictures for main ideas.

Remember that Easy Reads might not be the best way to reach people with learning difficulties. They may prefer podcasts or videos instead.

The government has produced some guidance on producing and commissioning Easy Reads.

Further information

This how-to was contributed by NCVO Charities Evaluation Services and produced as part of Inspiring Impact – a UK-wide collaborative programme supporting a focus on impact in the voluntary sector.

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Page last edited Jul 28, 2017 History

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