By Aaron Schonhoff, Joining Vision and Action (JVA)

The importance of high-quality data evaluation.

Evaluation is the process of demonstrating the effectiveness of an organization’s efforts to reach and affect their intended audience. In any attempt to report an organization’s ability to show their efforts, data visualization is critical in convincing stakeholders of the achieved results.


Source: EDFacts/Consolidated State Performance Report, SYs 2010-2011, 2011-2012, 2012-2013, 2013-2014. Retrieved from (click here)

GIS or Geographic Information System

The display of data allows us to quickly take information that is complex and turn it into something easily digestible. A simple graph can demonstrate discrepancies in national high school graduation rates by racial/ethnic categories. This chart takes millions of data points and quickly dispenses to the reader where our education system is successful and where improvements are needed.

However, the table alone does not tell the entire story. If the Department of Education needed to know how it should allocate funds to help shore up areas of deficiencies, it would most likely need to know where those gaps existed to best target its efforts.

GISIn many organizations, the where is vital information in evaluating programming efforts to reach a targeted audience. Unfortunately, the applications we use every day, such as Microsoft Office or Google Docs, are simply not equipped with the tools to visually display data as it relates to geographic boundaries. To do this, we need applications designed to manage, generate and display geographic information systems data, or GIS data.

The Tools

The industry leader in providing GIS data software is ArcGIS. However, the subscription price for this software-as-a-service will likely price out most nonprofits and social enterprise organizations. Fortunately, there are other options.

Tableau Public is a relatively new tool that allows users to create beautiful data visualizations, including maps. Its powerful tools are manageable for users new to data visualization, and it even offers a desktop version of its application. But the catch (there is almost always a catch) is that any visualizations created in Tableau Public are made public, hence the name. If you want to work with data that is not suitable for a general audience, it has options for that, but again, the pricing will likely prove to be a barrier for most nonprofits and social enterprises.

QGIS (also known as Quantum GIS) is an open-source GIS application that allows users to create and edit geospatial data sets. It is free, and there are a good number of plug-ins to expand the base functionality. The catch here is that it is an open-source program. This means members of the geographic information systems community, who received no compensation, developed it as a collaborative effort; there were no professional user interface experts on board to give it the polish of many of the programs used in everyday work. As a result, QGIS has a much steeper learning curve than the average computer application.

Fortunately, the internet contains a trove of resources for those with the willingness and patience to learn. QGIS provides both a gentle introduction to geographic information systems series to get newbies up to speed on the GIS field and its terminology, along with a training manual complete with sample data sets to practice putting the application to use. Additionally, City University of New York has also created a day-long workshop on QGIS that is available to everyone in the form of a .pdf and .zip file. For the more visually oriented learners, there are numerous YouTube videos available; a good place to start would be the QGIS Uncovered series of videos by Steven Bernard.

This is by no means a comprehensive list of mapping applications available. Numerous web map tools exist, such as Mango Maps or Zeemaps, but many of these tools are often best used in conjunction with a fully featured geographic information systems program such as QGIS. The tools needed to create professional looking maps are out there in abundance. The only thing missing is the willingness to learn.

Get Started Today!

Are you ready to dig in? Perhaps you would like a friend and champion as you do? Our research and evaluation team would love to dive deep into your data and identify what tools and reporting features are best for you. Give us a call today at (303) 477-4896 or sign up for one of our Evaluation Trainings[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]