Baltimore Data and Evaluation Meetup

Written by Taj Carson on . Posted in

 

eval3 

The Baltimore Data and Evaluation Meetup, recently created by CRC, is a group for people working at nonprofits, foundations, and government agencies who are interested in collecting and using data to improve their programs. Whether you are trying to figure out where to start, wrestling with providing data to funders, figuring out what outcomes you should be measuring, or analyzing and reporting on the data you already collect, this meetup is for you. All levels of expertise are welcome. Participants will discuss the issues they are facing and share ideas and resources in order to practically solve problems. At least one skilled evaluation professional will be present at every session. We are hoping to develop a group where people from different organizations can bring questions about evaluation, share ideas, and build a community around data collection, outcome measurement, and reporting.

Please join us for our first meeting on Wednesday, September 3, 2014 from 8:00 to 9:00 AM at Maryland Nonprofits, 1500 Union Avenue, Suite 2500, Baltimore, MD. We plan to have a discussion about potential topics for the rest of this year’s meetups. A light breakfast will be served.

Don’t forget to RSVP here.

For more information, please email sheila@carsonresearch.com or connect with us through our social media channels on Twitter and Facebook .

 

CRC’s “Dumbphone” User

Written by CRC on . Posted in

by Tracy Dusablon

8395672030_96c060c657_z

Each CRC staff person is assigned a month in which to write a blog – this month it was my turn.

At first, I was wracking my brain to come up with something instructive, like in my colleague Sarah’s series Secrets from the Data Cave, or hip like Sheila’s post about Data Driven Detroit.

Instead, I decided to write about something  that sets me apart from my co-workers, and tell a little story about our office in the process.

 

The other day I was checking office voicemail online (we have an internet phone system) and came across this funny-looking icon. I noted how non-self-explanatory this icon was and, out of curiosity, asked a few co-workers if they knew what it meant. The conversation went a little something like this:

Me: “Hey, does anyone know what this ridiculous icon that looks like 110 camera film is?”

old film

Co-worker #1: “Seriously?……..That’s the international voicemail symbol – it’s been around for decades.” [Note: co-worker #1 is in her early 20’s]

Me: “Decades……. really?”

Co-worker #2: “Haha, co-worker #1, you haven’t even been around for decades! But yes, that is the voicemail icon.”

 Co-worker #1: “Well, it’s the only voicemail symbol I’ve seen in my entire life. It’s on EVERY cell phone”

 Me: “Well, it isn’t on mine. When I have a voicemail on my cell, it looks like a phone handset.”

 Co-worker #2: “No way, you have it – you just don’t know.”

 Me: “Call me and leave a voicemail…I’ll prove it to you.”

This conversation continued. Co-worker #1 called and left a message on my phone. Sure enough – no 110 film icon appeared; just an old-school phone handset (much to everyone’s shock and amusement). Another co-worker chimed in this time, looking over her shoulder and brushing away tears of laughter from her eyes……“OMG, I had your phone in like 1996!”

Admittedly, I’m the technology dinosaur in our office. I’m in my late 30’s and the proud owner of a “dumbphone”. I also stay away from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and all the other social media that I know nothing about. I’ve faced my fair share of ridicule in the office because of this, but the voicemail conversation took the cake.

I’ve been asked, “In our work environment, how can you NOT have a smartphone?” My answer, most simply is….“I don’t want one. Well, not yet.” It’s not that getting a smartphone has not crossed my mind, but I’m ambivalent about it and I never considered owning one until I started working here over a year ago. So at this point, I’m weighing the pros and cons. Here is my list so far:

Pros

  • Email access anywhere, anytime.
  • Internet access anywhere, anytime
  • Capturing video and still photos of local Hampdenites sparring outside our office windows
  • Apps claiming to organize and simplify my life

Consphone screen

  • Email access anywhere, anytime
  • Cost
  • Learning curve
  • Having a phone dictate my life
  • Auto correct (I have nightmares about sending inappropriate emails to clients. With my luck, I’d have the next contribution to the website Damn You Auto Correct)


 

The cons still outweigh the pros for me right now; I’m just not ready for a smart phone quite yet. Plus, have you read the article recently published in Science[1] about people who would rather shock themselves than be without their phones or other devices? I’m not itching to jump on that bandwagon!

Anyway, I like to think I make out just fine without a smartphone. I’ve never missed a meeting, I meet my deadlines, and have a means for getting in touch with people and for people to get in touch with me. Everyone has their own style. Mine just might be a bit more old-school than others. I mean, really, I DO text!

 

______________ 

(1) Source article: Wilson, T.D. et. Al., Science 4 July 2014: Vol. 345 no. 6192 pp. 75-77. 

 

 

 

CRC Takes Detroit

Written by Taj Carson on . Posted in

By Sheila Matano

This past week, Taj and I visited Detroit to meet with Erica Raleigh at Data Driven Detroit (D3) and also took some time to explore the city.

Data Driven Detroit

D3 is a National Neighborhood Indicators Partner (NNIP) and an affiliate of the Michigan Nonprofit Association (MNA). Created in 2008, D3 houses a comprehensive data system that includes current and historic demographic, socioeconomic, educational, environmental, and other indicators. In addition to providing access to high-quality data, D3 also provides services such as data analysis and data visualization to organizations in Detroit.  For example, they created the One D Scorecard to show how Detroit compares to different regions across the United States. (See other examples of D3’s work.)

Pic 1

Pic2

 D3 Building

 

Pic3

 D3’s Mission

 

Shinola

Founded in 2011, Shinola is a Detroit-based company that produces watches, bicycles, leather goods, and journals. And yes, the company got its name from the 1940s colloquial “You don’t know shit from Shinola”. Every Shinola product is made in the U.S., which is pretty great since no American watchmaker has produced watches at scale since the late 1960s! Currently, their factory has the capacity to produce 500,000 watches a year.

Pic4

Pic5

Pic6

Pic7

 

Sightseeing – Detroit Style

We had some time to drive around and check out some of Detroit’s tourist attractions and historic buildings. Matthew, our resident map guy, made us a handy interactive story map to use while on our trip.

 Pic8

 

Although we couldn’t get to all the sites because of limited time, thanks to Matthew’s map we were able to take an interesting self-guided tour around the city! (Full photo album is available on Facebook.)

 

Pic9

The Michigan Central Depot where some scenes from Transformers were filmed.

 

Pic10

The Detroit Industry Murals by Diego Rivera at the Detroit Institute of Arts Museum

 Pic11

The world’s largest Masonic Temple

 

 Pic12

 Fox Theater

 

Detroit, like Baltimore, has a lot more going for it than people might think. This summer, CRC plans on exploring whether negative perceptions of Baltimore City (such as those perpetuated even by media we love, like The Wire) are actually supported by data. And we’ll be using our own Baltimore DataMind to do it. Stay tuned! We’ll be sharing some information soon.

 

eyeo_taj

EYEO 2014 RECAP

Written by CRC on . Posted in CRC Team, Dataviz

by Sheila Matano

Last week, I attended the EYEO festival for the first time. EYEO is unique in that it brings together experts from a wide variety of fields (e.g. computer science, engineering, data design, cartography, etc.) to showcase their work.  There were a number of great presentations, and below are some of my favorites.

 

Sarah Williams: DigitalMatatus, Visualizing Informality

Sarah Williams is currently an Assistant Professor of Urban Planning and the Director of the Civic Data Design Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s School of Architecture and Planning. The Civic Data Design Lab employs data visualization and mapping techniques to expose and communicate urban patterns and policy issues to broader audiences. In her presentation, Sarah talked about how her team worked with Kenyan Universities and Nairobi’s growing technology sector to collect data on Nairobi’s transit system which is mostly made up of matatus. As a Nairobi native, it was pretty awesome to hear how Sarah and her team used this information to develop mobile routing applications and design a new transit map for Nairobi that changed how both the residents and government navigate the system.

 

eyeo1 

 

Nicholas Felton: Too Big to Fail

Nicholas Felton is famous for his personal annual reports that incorporate different dataviz techniques to reflect his work. The image below is from the Feltron 2012 Annual Report.

eyeo2 

In his presentation, Felton described how he attempted to capture a year of his communication exchanges in 2013 including conversations, phone calls, physical mail, email, texts and chat messages. He also talked about the methodology, privacy issues and design challenges of working with this dataset. You can keep up with his work on his blog.

 

eyeo3 

 

Tahir Hemphill: The Rap Research Lab

Tahir Hemphill is a multimedia artist working in the areas of interdisciplinary collaboration, thought and research. He manages the media arts education program for the Rap Research Lab-a place for teaching art, design, data analysis and data visualization to students from the Bronx using his project based curriculum which visualizes Hip Hop as a cultural indicator.  During his presentation, Hemphill talked about his work in the semantic analysis of rap lyrics and how he used a robot to create visualizations by mapping the locations rappers mentioned in their music.

eyeo4

 eyeo6eyeo5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Micah Elizabeth Scott: Blinky lights for STEAM

Micah Elizabeth Scott  talked about her experience working with both hardware and software. She has been doing unconventional things with technology for as long as she can remember and has built satellites, robots, virtual machines, graphics drivers, CPU emulators, networking stacks, USB controllers, reverse engineering tools, and pretty much everything in-between.  In her presentation, Micah talked about her work in using LEDs to bridge the gap between technology and art, and the potential this new medium has as an open-ended educational tool. This year, her and her team at scanlime took a cloud to burning man on a forklift.

 eyeo7

 

 

Jessica Hagy: Tiny Data

Jessica Hagy is an artist and writer best known for her Webby award-winning blog, Indexed. A fixture in the creative online space, her style of visual storytelling allows readers to draw their own conclusions and to actively participate in each narrative. She mixes data (both quantitative and qualitative) with humor, insight, and simple visuals to make even the most complex concepts immediately accessible and relevant. During her presentation, Jessica shared some of the humorous stories behind her visualizations.

 

eyeo8eyeo10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

eyeo9

 

Taj Carson: Everyone deserves beautiful data

Taj gave a great ignite presentation on why everyone deserves beautiful data. She gave us some insight on how data visualization can be made accessible to people or organizations who don’t have a lot of resources. We will post a link to her presentation when it’s available.

 

eyeo_taj 

 

Northern spark festival

Northern Spark is an all-night arts festival that happens on the second Saturday in June each summer. Tens of thousands of people gather along the Minneapolis riverfront and throughout the city to explore giant video projections, play in temporary installations in the streets, and enjoy experimental performances in green spaces and under bridges. I had a great time exploring the Minneapolis art scene, below are some of the installations. 

eyeo12 eyeo13  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Clock is a major cinematic work by New York–based artist Christian Marclay. The Clock samples thousands of excerpts from the history of film that indicate the passage of time—from clock towers to wristwatches to buzzing alarm clocks—that the artist has edited together to unfold on the screen in real time as a 24-hour montage. 

 

Ben’s Window, Artist: Ben Vautier

 eyeo14

 

Resources

Below is a list of cool resources compiled from our time at EYEO:

Scratch is a programming language and an online community where children and adults can program and share interactive media such as stories, games, and animation with people from all over the world.

Duolingo is a free language-learning and crowdsourced text translation platform. The service is designed so that, as users progress through the lessons, they simultaneously help to translate websites and other documents.

Mapbox is an open source mapping platform for developers and designers.

Lynda is an online learning company that helps anyone learn software, design, and business skills to achieve their personal and professional goals. With a lynda.com subscription, members receive unlimited access to a vast library of high quality, current, and engaging video tutorials.

For more eyeo pics, check out the CRC Facebook Page

Secrets from the Data Cave, May 2014

Written by CRC on . Posted in

by Sarah McCruden

Welcome to CRC’s monthly series of articles on all things techie: Secrets from the Data Cave! (For those who don’t know, the title references our room — fondly referred to as “the bat cave”— where data staff can geek out in an isolated setting.) Here we’ll be offering you a fascinating sneak peek into the cave, with the latest updates & tips on what we’re implementing here at CRC!

May 2014:  The Difficult Database, Part 1: The Data Monster

            In my experience working with relational databases, I’ve seen it all: the good, the bad, and the very ugly in data-keeping practices.  I’ve learned a lot about wrangling data in an unruly database. While plenty of problems I see are caused by a complicated combination of elements and require time-consuming fixes, sometimes the issues are simple and could be addressed relatively quickly and painlessly by program directors or database managers. Over the next few months I will review a few of these common problems, what might be causing them, and how I would address them in a mini-series of posts regarding “The Difficult Database.”

This month, I’ll talk about a very serious problem plaguing organizations everywhere . . . THE DATA MONSTER!

The Data Monster, as portrayed for Ashley Faherty circa 2009. Ms. Faherty kept the sketch as a reminder of the trouble the Monster can cause. Note: Not drawn to scale.

The Data Monster, as portrayed for Ashley Faherty circa 2009. Ms. Faherty kept the sketch as a reminder of the trouble the Monster can cause. Not drawn to scale.

The Data Monster is a seldom-seen creature that sneaks into your database/case notes/paper records under cover of night and eats all the data. You’ll know you have a Data Monster if, when it comes time to pull a report out of your database, many of the records for your clients/patients/students are mysteriously missing. You know the work was done, and the efforts of your team should be reflected in your report—so where did the data go? The Data Monster ate it. That is to say, you have no idea where it went and why it’s not on the report. So you suffer from:

The Common Problem: No data/incomplete data in your database and on your reports, or inexplicably low participant counts for some measures.

Possible Cause(s) and Ways to Address Them:

  1. Records are not being entered by program staff at all

If you suspect that entire records are not being entered AT ALL (so, for example, someone filled out an intake questionnaire on paper for Suzie Q., who is enrolling in your Workforce Development program, but now months down the line Suzy Q. doesn’t have an intake in the database at all), here are some things to consider:

  • Are you setting your database fields to “required” for too many answers on a very long form? While this may seem like a good way to prevent incomplete data, this can actually backfire if used excessively. It requires program and data entry staff to enter every single field all in one sitting before they can submit the form (and I’ve seen forms with hundreds of fields to be completed, which could take hours to enter). When a form like this meets program staff who already have a full day of tasks to complete, it’s easy to see why data entry for something that will eat up such a large chunk of time might get put off until later, which unfortunately can translate into much later, or never, because there is a continuous stream of new records coming in that will also require entry. Even if staff have the option to save part-way through the entry process and return later to enter the rest, you’re likely to get a lot of saved partially-completed forms that will never make it to submission/completion, which is only slightly better than not having them entered at all.
  • I would suggest: Think about what should REALLY be required on that form, and adjust your field settings accordingly. First and last name? Most likely need that information completed. Mother’s maiden name? Probably not something you should require. Yes, in a perfect world, every field would be completed every time, and there are likely certain things that funders ask you to collect, but you need to think about the bare minimum of necessary information, and make those the required fields. That way, at the very least you will have some data to show on those participants, as opposed to none when their data is never entered, or their form is never completed and submitted.

  2. Records for a participant are in the database, but the fields you need for data aggregation are blank/incorrect

Sometimes participants will have a record, but won’t show up where they are supposed to/don’t have the correct values filled in for certain fields are not being entered (so Suzie Q., who is enrolling in your Workforce Development program, has an intake form, but things that should be filled in are blank or wrong), here are some things to consider:

  • Are the data entry staff the same as the data collectors themselves? If not, is there an understanding between the two of how certain values should be entered? While some programs are set up such that the same person who would collect the data on paper would enter it into the database, many rely on designated data entry staff to do the electronic entry component. As someone who started out as a Data Entry Specialist, I have seen many cases where the person who filled out the paper form would leave a field blank, either because they were doing some type of task that involved them being quick in their observation/note taking (for example, observing motor skills in young children, who will not perform on command), or because it was not applicable and/or the correct value was assumed to be common sense or obvious. As a data entry professional, I entered things exactly as they appeared on the paper, especially since I did entry for a lot of standardized tests on which I wasn’t qualified to “assume” anything. Ideally one would ask for clarification if something is blank, but that is not always an option, especially if the person who completed the form is very busy. Thus, you might end up with blank fields in your database because, for example, the person completing the form left a field blank and assumed it would be filled in during entry, but it wasn’t.
  • I would suggest: The best way to deal with this is to have a meeting between those who complete the fields on paper and those who do the entry, and agree upon what is to be entered when a field is left blank. If there are exceptions to the rule, they need to be explicitly stated because ultimately, though you might want people to just use “common sense” in their entry, you also wouldn’t want them to assume something in error and cause the wrong value to be entered into your database. Communication is key to resolving this issue.
  • Does your form and/or database contain items with forced-choice values that are too close in meaning? If you have a drop-down menu in your database, or multiple choice item on a form, where two or more values are too close in meaning, you may end up with some program staff choosing one option, while others choose a different one, in cases where the value should be the same. For example, if your questionnaire asks what type of government assistance a participant receives, and you have one option for “Utility Assistance” and one for “Water Bill Assistance,” some program staff might assume that water is a utility and thus belongs under utility assistance. Then, when it comes time to get your total number of participants receiving assistance on their water bill, your count for “Water Bill Assistance” will be lower than it should be because some are counted in the “Utility Assistance” total instead. This is more often a problem when there are many options to choose from (I’ve seen databases with over 100 choices for a single item).
  • I would suggest: Either generate a list for program staff that spells out which values should be used for which responses, or remove some of the options/change things so that they cannot be confused anymore (for example, you could change “Utility Assistance” to “Gas/Electric Assistance,” so that program staff know that it doesn’t refer to the water bill). Do keep in mind, though, that no matter what you do to fix this issue going forward, you old data may still have errors caused by the initial confusion, and you would need to be mindful of that when crafting your report.

 

Hopefully, armed with the above suggestions, you can tackle some of the issues you might be experiencing with your database, and that pesky DATA MONSTER will leave you alone once and for all!

 

 

 

 

Contracting 101: Accounting for People

Written by CRC on . Posted in Business operations, Contracting

by Kevin Majoros

Kevin1

It was pretty obvious from an early age that I would be working with numbers for a living as an adult. 

By the time I was seven, I could memorize the bowling averages, games bowled, and pin count totals of all 60 members of my mother’s bowling league.  Every week I would sit at a table in the bowling alley with the league stats in front of me while frightening women with bouffants walked by with questions like, “Hey kid, what do I need to bowl this week to raise my average to 170?”  My mother bowled in three leagues weekly and I always had the answers for any questions about the numbers.

My father was the bartender at the same bowling alley and I was allowed to run around and pick up pop bottles for money, although I was not allowed to touch the beer bottles. I used to walk around and calculate how many people would be drinking pop versus beer (bouffant divided by polyester squared) and how many bottles they might drink during the course of the night.  If I thought it was going to be a heavy night of beer drinking, I would pass on picking up the bottles and just concentrate on the bowling stats.

Even in college as I worked my way towards a degree in Finance, I spent more time forecasting my test scores and their affect on my GPA than I did studying.

Kevin2

When I started working at Carson Research Consulting, I was happy to find that most of my responsibilities involved using numbers to answer questions.  Forecasting from trend analysis, time-tracking, building spreadsheets, and just plain number crunching are things I greatly enjoy doing.

When I realized that I would also be involved in contract management, which in effect meant that I would be dealing with people, the questions started immediately in my head:

Is there a template?

Can I create a formula?

Will there be a spreadsheet?

Are there people involved?  Please, not the people…..

 Kevin4

The first thing to consider when dealing with contract management is to remember to maintain a logical thought process.  Even though people, unlike numbers, are not always logical, a planned course of action will generate the best results. 

Here are a few tips for managing the hurdles in the contract management process:

  1. Relationships are everything.  Make sure you have as many contacts as possible and maintain good relationships with them.  It is vital to the successful completion of any project.  Once a contract gets into dispute or someone gets a chip on his or her shoulder, the project will most likely suffer as a result.

  2. Contract approvals take twice as long as planned.  In most cases, the consultant is expected to begin their work while the contract is going through the approval process.  Plan for this and have a bank line of credit available to fund the wages of your employees during this period.

  3. Look for guidance from your own staff.  The staff members involved in the contract will have the best feel for how things are progressing during the contract.  Interact with them regularly and get updates on how the work is progressing. 

  4. Track every dollar and labor hour related to the contract.  Use your budget to create a declining balance spreadsheet and track your labor, direct and indirect expenses on a monthly basis.  Sharing this with the staff will help keep the budget in check.

  5. Monitor variations in the scope of work, deliverables and performance measures.  These are established in the contract and generally will vary.  If new work is added during the life of the contract, there needs to be a reduction of work somewhere else to stay within budget.  Kevin5

  6. Know the payment terms of the contract.  Knowing when to bill, whether it is monthly or upon completion of deliverables, is key.  Get that invoice off your desk as soon as possible.

  7. Know the timeline of the contract.  When you are monitoring the time tracking stats, it is important to know where the peaks and valleys are in the timeline of the project.  When there are reports due, surveys being compiled or focus groups being managed, labor hours are going to increase. 


The above tips are just a few of the things that I have focused on because of their importance when mixing people with numbers (yes, the people….). 

It would also be a good idea to consider the words of interpersonal skills guru, Dale Carnegie:

“If you want to gather honey, don’t kick over the beehive.”

Secrets from the Data Cave: April 2014

Written by CRC on . Posted in Technology and Customer Service

by Ashley Faherty

Welcome to CRC’s monthly series of articles on all things techie: Secrets from the Data Cave! (For those who don’t know, the title references our room — fondly referred to as “the bat cave”— where data staff can geek out in an isolated setting.) Here we’ll be offering you a fascinating sneak peek into the cave, with the latest updates & tips on what we’re implementing here at CRC!

April 2014:  Building Online Brochures for Dummies

Let’s be frank: print advertising is going the way of the Dodo bird (RIP Mr. Dodo). Pamphlets, flyers, and brochures received in the mail(or in-person from a persistent kiosk salesperson while you’re walking through the mall, just trying to get your coffee fix) typically end up in the recycling bin or in a giant stack on your dining room table.

You know you have a pile like this at home, admit it!

You know you have a pile like this at home, admit it!

 So, what’s a better way for companies and organizations to effectively spread the word about their services and products?

Drumroll, please…

I present to you, Simplebooklet. This handy website allows you to easily build online brochures (or “booklets”, as they call them) in a matter of minutes. Even the most HTML-illiterate person can make a brochure without pulling their hair out, as the process is 100% click-and-choose with no code-writing involved.

I signed up for a free trial, which gave me 10 booklets that will be available online for 14 days. You can upgrade your account to the “Hero” service, which for $48 allows your 10 booklets to remain available online for a year. The “Client Manager” account gives you 30 booklets and 5 client accounts at a cost of $120/year. Or, choose “Full Service” where you supply a digital version (PDF, Word document, etc.) of your material and they transform it into a booklet for you (price available on request from Simplebooklit).

You can design a booklet from scratch (which isn’t as difficult as it sounds!) or use one of their several templates including “Top 5”, which highlights the top benefits of your products and services. I experimented with the “Business Overview” template to create a quick Carson Research booklet. This is just an elementary example of what you can do – the possibilities are nearly endless!  The site allows you to make a minimalist, muted brochure, a vibrantly-colored one full of images, or anything in-between. And, as you work out the style that fits your needs, every time you edit the booklet it will automatically update it wherever you have shared/posted it.

And good news for data heads like us. Simplebooklit allows you to check the analytics – how many views your booklet has had, and how many social media shares so you can be sure that your electronic brochure has not ended up in the internet garbage dump.

Try your hand at making a booklet and let us know what you think!

Secrets from the Data Cave: March 2014

Written by CRC on . Posted in , Dataviz

by Sarah McCruden

Welcome to CRC’s monthly series of articles on all things techie: Secrets from the Data Cave! (For those who don’t know, the title references our room — fondly referred to as “the bat cave”— where data staff can geek out in an isolated setting.) Here we’ll be offering you a fascinating sneak peek into the cave, with the latest updates & tips on what we’re implementing here at CRC!

March 2014: I Am Going to S P A C E

1280px-Galaxy_history_revealed_by_the_Hubble_Space_Telescope_(GOODS-ERS2)

Earlier this month, while looking for some new and interesting data visualizations, I came across this nifty website that gives a spatial representation of the distance between planets in our solar system1. After thoroughly enjoying the learning experience (along with the witty interjections, as I patiently scrolled though the empty space signifying millions of miles), I visited the creator’s blog page, where he explained his motivation to undertake this project:

“I kept trying to describe the distance using metaphors like ‘if the earth was the size of a golf ball, then Mars would be across the soccer field’ etc., but I realized I didn’t really know much about these distances, besides the fact that they were really large and hard to understand. Pictures in books, planetarium models, even telescopes are pretty misleading when it comes to judging just how big the universe can be. Are we doing ourselves a disservice by ignoring all the emptiness?” 2, (emphasis mine)

It got me thinking: we put a premium on space use in data visualization when it comes to things like BI dashboards, infographics, or even paper reports. We typically want our data spread across as few pages as possible, so that we can process related information simply by shifting our gaze, as opposed to shuffling/scrolling through multiple pages. We might also want to see the same data represented as numbers in a table and as a chart or graph, so it makes sense to try and squeeze multiple representations of the same data onto one page.

But the question remains: as convenient as it is to see everything at once without scrolling across a screen, what do we lose in impact when we choose to condense large datasets into small visual representations? Even when we keep those representations relatively true to scale, how much is lost?

Take, as another example, epidemiological data on different countries’ AIDS-related deaths in 2001 and 2011 (UNAIDS3). This dataset has been condensed to include a few example countries:

aids_datatable

 

aids_datachart 

 

The graph generally conveys the message that AIDS-related deaths in Kenya have dropped substantially in the last 10 years, while the number of such deaths remained about the same in the USA and United Kingdom, and that Kenya has many more deaths, overall, than the other two countries. But it’s still very difficult to wrap one’s mind around the magnitude of so many deaths just from the chart above.

For that reason, I created an alternative visualization of Kenya’s 130,000 estimated AIDS deaths in 2001 that, like the outer space example, involves a lot of scrolling. You can find it as a PDF here.

Now, I live in the real world. I get that we all need to consider limitations on space when creating data visualizations, especially when they will be printed. (Save some trees!) I also recognize that comparing sizes using the scrolling model is difficult because we can only hold so much precise measurement in our memory once it is out of our line of sight. This is why I only included data for one country and one year, rather than comparing all three in one visualization. But, my point remains that condensing as a visualization strategy does not always make comprehending data easier, especially when very large numbers are involved. There is something to be said for a visual representation of data that takes up a lot of space, when the data it represents is “larger than life.” And for that reason, going forward I plan to space my data visualizations out as much as I can, whenever possible and applicable.

Do any of our readers have any input on this topic? Leave a comment and let us know!

Sources:

  1. http://joshworth.com/dev/pixelspace/pixelspace_solarsystem.html
  2. http://www.joshworth.com/a-tediously-accurate-map-of-the-solar-system/
  3. http://www.unaids.org/en/media/unaids/contentassets/documents/epidemiology/2012/gr2012/20121120_UNAIDS_Global_Report_2012_with_annexes_en.pdf

 

 

It’s not another cat video but it’s just as cool – check out the new CRC Website

Written by Taj Carson on . Posted in CRC Team, Dataviz

 

The completely revamped Carson Research Consulting web site showcases the talents and experiences of the CRC team as well as the company’s expanded list of services. These offerings go beyond traditional research and evaluation services to include database wrangling and data visualization.  

 Services are managed and delivered by experienced data and technology nerds, researchers and evaluators. The group’s strong work ethic and resourceful detective skills allow them to collect, organize, analyze and report on the data their clients need to explore, explain and improve their programs. And the new web site showcases the backgrounds, skills and experiences of each team member, including the new chief wellness officer.

 “The web site,” says Taj Carson, CEO of CRC, “reflects our approachable and highly applicable way of doing evaluations and visualizing data. I am excited,” she adds, “to show clients how we can present their data in a way that is more engaging and effective.”

 For many of CRC’s clients, managing their databases was a daily struggle, and several expressed concerns about the program data they put into a database but had difficulty pulling out of it. This was especially true when it came to aggregating data that would yield meaningful results. To address these issues, CRC began offering a full range of database wrangling services for their clients, from the first steps of data collection to the end result of a finished report.

 The company’s database experience includes many popular software options, both online (such as Social Solutions’ ETO) and on desktop platforms (like Microsoft Access). This expertise allows CRC to teach their clients how to successful navigate the data retrieval and aggregation process. Or, if a client prefers, CRC can manage their entire database and reports process, leaving their program managers to focus their full attention on their participants.

 Data Visualization is another exciting new area for CRC, with clients working with them to develop interactive dashboards and infographics as well as web-based maps. Recently, CRC created an infographic for Moveable Feast, a non-profit in Maryland that prepares and delivers nutritious meals to homebound residents at no cost. The infographic showcases Moveable Feast’s upcoming 2014 Ride for the Feast, one of their largest fundraising events.

 “This interactive graphic is exactly what we needed,” says Mellisa Colimore, Moveable Feast’s event manager. “And it lets us easily, clearly and creatively deliver the information for this year’s ride while describing just how extensive Moveable Feast’s services are.”

 Another recent data visualization project was the creation of an interactive map of Baltimore City community schools for the Family League of Baltimore City. This map allows users to visualize a range of information, such as whether or not a particular school is slated for construction or if a school has an on-site health clinic. Users can also view the schools as an overlay with relevant community indicators, such as teen pregnancy and childhood lead exposure.

 The clients served by CRC — nonprofits, government agencies and foundations — are passionate about the human services work they do, and they work with CRC because they want someone else to deal with the mounds of resulting data. These organizations see the value of partnering with a team of data-devotees who can help them understand the impact of their programs as well as how to improve them. 

Secrets from the Data Cave: February 2014

Written by CRC on . Posted in

by Ashley Faherty

Welcome to CRC’s monthly series of articles on all things techie: Secrets from the Data Cave! (For those who don’t know, the title references our room — fondly referred to as “the bat cave”— where data staff can geek out in an isolated setting.) Here we’ll be offering you a fascinating sneak peek into the cave, with the latest updates & tips on what we’re implementing here at CRC!

February 2014: Predicting Student Achievement to Hire the Best Teacher, Faster

Teacher at Chalkboard

The hiring process in any field can be an arduous task. First, HR has to sift through many (sometimes hundreds, or even thousands) of resumes. Then, they take those that are best qualified and pass them along to the hiring manager. That person has to go through the resumes, as well, and contact the desired individuals. Afterwards, interviews, skill testing, and other steps ensue. And when hiring teachers, you have the not insignificant, added pressure of finding someone who can positively shape the minds of the future leaders of tomorrow. (Whoa.)

In the tricky case of teacher hiring, what if there could be an initial screening that would be completed with applicants even before human resources logs those many hours skimming resumes? Sure, there are teacher selection tools already in use, such as the Haberman Star Teacher Pre-Screener and Gallup’s Teacher Insight. But, some argue that they don’t hit an important outcome of teaching— levels of student achievement. 

Hanover Research and TeacherMatch feel they’ve bridged this gap in the teacher selection process through the creation of Paragon K12 and Educators Professional Inventory, respectively. Both of these evaluation tools are presented as web-based software that is very easy to learn and use.  So how do they work? A candidate submits an application and resume for a teaching job and is then directed to whichever program the district has chosen to utilize. The candidate completes the assessment online, then the software examines this data via a large-scale meta-analysis on hundreds of thousands of variables, all of which have been found to be correlated with student achievement. Paragon K12 identifies important teacher qualifications and characteristics such as experience, education, credential pathways, attitudes, attributes, self-efficacy, and cognitive ability. EPI also focuses on these items, with the addition of teaching skills (or knowledge of teaching methods that bolster academic learning).  Then, all applicants are given a score or ranked according to who would have the largest impact on student achievement. Hiring managers can view the results immediately via a customized dashboard, and can see more in-depth information about each individual applicant if desired. They can then move on to the next step of hiring – interviewing those who scored or ranked the highest.

A cool feature of the TeacherMatch software is that it points out which knowledge and skills are most important to your school or district based on the candidates you have chosen to hire in this past. This then allows the software to do its job even better in the future, as you can instruct it to put more weight on those areas so that it will increase the effectiveness of its predictions. It also provides a Professional Development Profile (PDP) to the candidates who are offered positions. This profile assists them with steps they can take to become better teachers, such as suggestions on acquiring more knowledge in certain areas.

As with many topics in education, these programs could be controversial because there will undoubtedly be people who feel that they place too much emphasis on test scores. But, consider the table below.

 

Source: http://nctaf.org/wp-content/uploads/no-dream-denied_summary_report.pdf

Source: http://nctaf.org/wp-content/uploads/no-dream-denied_summary_report.pdf

In light of the fact that 46% of teachers leave teaching after only 5 years of experience in the field, any tool that helps to ensure the hiring of quality teachers, and can even help them to improve, should at least be considered for use in assisting the hiring process along with other methods of schools’ and districts’ choice.

 

CRC_logo_footer

twitter_social_mediafacebook_social_mediayoutube_social_media
google_social_media