Evaluation communication and audience considerations
by Dana Ansari
During the brief time I’ve worked as an evaluator, for various projects I’ve had to report on different types of information in different formats and structures. Given that I’ve had limited-to-no access to the actual databases for these projects, I typically have had to request needed information from the project staff members who have access to it. As a result, the data I receive is mostly in raw format, lengthy and complicated to understand at a glance. However, with time and follow up questioning, I’ve been able to extract what I need from within the numbers. Of course, the work is still far from over.
I then have had to filter, sort, organize, and restructure the data so that my audience can understand it without being confused or bored out of their minds. There are several factors that I’ve had to take into account in order to best communicate the story embedded within the data. A key thing that I have learned about data communication is that understanding my audience and presenting information accordingly is vital to good communication.
Understanding your audience is key to communicating data because it dictates the level of detail and the type of information presented. For example, the target audiences for most of my projects are funders, program directors, managers, and program staff. Therefore the type of information they are interested in is that which illustrates program implementation and its implications, programs’ successes and challenges, and information that will aid them in decision-making and creating improvements to future planning (Baxter & Braverman, 2004). By taking into account the need of my target audience, I am better able to gather and provide the type of information that is most useful to them.
In regards to understanding my audience, I’ve also learned that knowing the presentation context helps me determine the most effective way to disseminate data-derived information. Providing annual and/or quarterly reports provides stakeholders with a great amount of detail about their programs’ performance, including progress, implementation successes, potential barriers, and future recommendations to improve outcomes and impacts. However, in a larger group setting such as at a coalition meeting, which may consist of program managers, directors, staff, funders, and others, providing such a detailed report would not be advisable. In that context, not all audience members would have the same level of informational need and/or interest in those details (Baxter & Braverman, 2004; Stetson, 2008). For that type of setting a short and concise PowerPoint presentation, memo, or informative briefs, which could include a bulleted summary of key findings, a few highlights, and general observed trends, would be most useful. Such formats can provide an overall perspective of the program, while keeping your audience engaged. They also provide the opportunity for questions and group discussions, and allow the presenter to employ visually-engaging graphs and charts that are not only eye-catching but also help to more readily convey the information (Stetson, 2008).
When you communicate any type of information, it is essential to always consider your target audience—its members and their context— because this will determine what type(s) of information to convey, and the most effective presentation strategy to keep your audience engaged and facilitate a more productive use of the evaluation findings.
Baxter, L. W., & Braverman, M. T. (2004). Communicating results to different audiences. In M. T. Braverman, N. A. Constantine, & J. K. Slater (Eds.), Foundations and evaluation: Contexts and practices for effective philanthropy. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Stetson, V. (2008). Communication and Reporting on an Evaluation. American Red Cross/CRS M&E Module Series. American Red Cross and Catholic Relief Services (CRS), Washington, DC and Baltimore, Maryland.