Picture This: Data Visualization
In an earlier blog post, I wrote about how an evidence-based culture supports making data-driven decisions. As I was reviewing our data visualization course this week, however, I was reminded of why it’s so important to communicate clearly about the information your data surfaces.
Communicating about data requires us to look beyond the raw data and find the story within it. Whether you use a chart, slide deck, or run-of-the-mill Pivot Table, clearly conveying your data insights can go a long way toward facilitating data-driven decisions and making a habit of it.
- First, data keeps us honest. Without data it’s easy to speculate and hypothesize about what’s really going on. Recent inspections within VHA provide a great example here. It was known that there were delays in scheduling, and the inspections revealed that in most cases the delays were due to a shortage of specialty provider care rather than problems within the scheduling process itself (which had in the past been speculated as the root cause of the delays).
- Data is often counter to our intuitions. This is clear when I look at my own to-do lists. If I have a mile-long to-do list, it’s easy for me to feel like I’m not being productive. In reality, focusing on what remains to be done averts our focus from what’s already checked off the list. I don’t build a bar chart to compare the number of tasks I’ve completed to the number that remains, but I bet if I did I might be surprised. The same is true for monitoring performance at the organization level—sometimes we need the reality check that data provides us, to show us that reality is better (or worse) than we expected.
- Finally, data raises questions just as much as it provides answers. I can look at data in a variety of formats—a table, a list, or charts—and all will help tell the story behind the raw data. In doing so, it inevitably invites me to probe deeper. Once I have the data behind one question, I usually have follow up questions in droves. Putting some data on the table is often the first step in building an evidence-based culture that routinely makes data-driven decisions.
In your work, consider how you can communicate clearly about data. A picture is worth a thousand words, and visuals help convey qualitative and quantitative data. I often find that charts, color-coding for good vs. bad vs. neutral, or tables help highlight the main points I want to make.
Consider what media and format you use to convey your data, and where you’d like to reap the benefits of an organizational culture that prioritizes data-driven decisions.