Monitoring Program Capacity

Posted on November 15, 2016 | in DatavizDesign | by Dana Ansari

Over the past couple of blog entries, Taj has shared lessons learned about design thinking that you can apply to your work. Taj will be continuing that series soon, but in the meantime, we wanted to share a related example of creating a simple, but effective, visualization for a client.


A local agency wanted to track client capacity on a monthly basis. This agency oversees services to pregnant women across multiple program locations, so tracking such information is necessary not only for their oversight of services, but also for sound management of dollars received from their funder

Each service program under our clients purview has an individualized contracted site capacity (i.e., maximum number of clients that they could serve), and dealt with an influx of clients enrolling and withdrawing from services each month. The agency needed something that could summarize, at a glance, all the information that they wanted to see. Because CRC was already the evaluator on the project, the agency reached out to us to develop a visual tool to help them with this specific need to improve their tracking and reporting.

CRC staff were familiar with the critical elements of the work (i.e. contracted site capacity, monthly site capacity, number of clients enrolled/discharged each month) that would need to be incorporated into the visualization.

We wanted to create a visualization that would allow our client to view accurate program capacity each month, observe trends over time, and, also, to have a management tool for determining factors influencing any substantial enrollment changes.

Process of developing the visualization

Once the necessary data were gathered, CRC staff began brainstorming. We first used charting tools available in Excel, such as line chart and bar chart, but quickly realized that only two or three data elements could be easily displayed in a such chars. We then began rough sketching ideas for how all the data could be displayed within one visual.

Because we wanted to visually communicate enrollment relative to capacity at-a-glance, our sketching led us to the infamous bubble. Were well aware of the critiques that have been leveled against such charts, but ultimately went with it here because it allowed us to visualize a data set with up to four dimensions, all in an easy to interpret chart.

After our rough sketches were drafted on paper, basic graphic design software was used to recreate them electronically. The sketches were shared for internal review, and edited before a draft was shared with the client. Once the client was satisfied with the layout and information presented, the tool was recreated for each of the five programs within the agency. A separate version summarizing the capacity data for the agency, overall, was also developed and provided to the client.

Final Product

The resulting data visualization tool was updated each month by CRC staff. Monthly data for each program were provided to CRC by the client, and our staff then made updates to the visualizations.

The final product tells a prospective story of capacity for each of the agencys programs and the agency as a comprehensive whole. (See below example of one of the individual program visualizations.)

Although this is not the most complex visualization that CRC has created, it provides a good example of the importance of working collaboratively and thinking just enough outside of the box to provide clients with what they need.

Stay tuned for more on design thinking in evaluation coming soon!